I have plenty of vices to give up for Lent. I love chocolate. White wine is my beverage of choice. I’m pretty much addicted to my smart phone.
So, when Lent comes, I have options for self-denial. But I’m not choosing any of them.
I’m approaching Lent this year as it is revealed to me through Jesus’ experience in the desert. In the Gospel of Luke (4:1-13), the devil tempts Jesus three ways.
First, the devil tempts a fasting Jesus to “command this stone to become bread.”
The devil doesn’t conjure up food to tempt Jesus. The devil’s temptation challenges Jesus to use his power, as the Son of God, to satisfy his own hunger. And Jesus responds, “It is written, one does not live on bread alone.”
This response suggests Jesus recognizes far greater nourishment than the satisfaction of hunger. He recognizes that his power is not intended for his own personal benefit, but as a sign of God’s grace, to be used for the good of others.
What can I learn from Jesus’s response to this temptation? I learn that my talents, my gifts, my material wealth — all from God — are not for my personal advantage. These gifts are to be shared with others. If I “command” them for only my personal satisfaction, I misuse God’s grace.
Secondly, the devil tempts Jesus with power and glory, offering him “all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.”
For these, the devil requires Jesus to worship him. Jesus responds, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.”
What false kingdoms tempt me?
The kingdom of personal comfort: I walk away from the pain of other people’s suffering, rather than endure it with them. The kingdom of ego: I dwell in that kingdom whenever my pride makes me feel superior to others, becomes bruised by a humbling experience, or offended by honest criticism.
Finally, the devil challenges Jesus to throw Himself down from the parapet of the temple to test God’s promise of protection.
Jesus refuses. What parallels can I draw from my own life?
Perhaps I can learn that trusting God is different from boasting about God’s protection. I may be tempted to see myself as blessed because I have not endured tremendous suffering in my life. Yet if I see myself that way, what about those who do suffer? Are they not as well-protected and blessed by God?
I do better to show gratitude to God by offering myself in service to my sisters and brothers who, though not free of suffering, are equally loved.
In all of his responses to temptation, Jesus refers to Scripture. By immersing Himself in the word of God, Jesus is strengthened.
Thus, in my own experience of the 40 days of Lent, I can find strength in God’s Word.
How I spend these 40 days is not about making me a better person when Lent is over. St. John Chrysostom says: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”