By Mgr William Shomali
The Devil exists and continues to interfere in the life of human beings to lead them out of the way of God and away from his plan of love. He tries to convince his victims that he loves them and wants their good more than God does. Temptation is an integral part of the human condition. Since the first Adam until the last human being on earth, humanity will be subject to temptation. Jesus Christ, the second Adam, was himself tempted by the Devil.
In the first Sunday of Lent, the mystery of the Lord’s temptations never ceases to amaze us. How is it possible that, immediately after being baptised and anointed as Messiah in the Jordan River, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tested by the dark “prince of this world” (Jn 12:31)? Why this humiliation? Why this being thrown by the Spirit of God into the clutches of the evil spirit?
We find the answer in the Letter to the Hebrews: “For the high priest we have is not incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin” (Heb 4:15). He accepted to be tempted out of his solidarity with the human condition. St Augustine says: “Certainly Christ was tempted by the Devil, but in Christ you were tempted, too. Because Christ took his flesh from you, you took from Him salvation; from you he took death, from Him life; from you humiliation, from Him glory; from you temptation, from him victory.” So Jesus was tempted like us and for us. He was tempted and won. We are tempted and we will win.
The three temptations of Jesus can be basically summarised in one: making Jesus change his Messianic mission from a spiritual one to an earthly one, reducing his salvation to a political and economic one. The three temptations tried to push Jesus out of the itinerary that leads from Jordan to Calvary.
After a long fast of 40 days, Jesus was hungry. The Devil wanted Jesus to behave like a man of wonders in order to reduce his mission to a socio-economic one. It is true that Jesus will multiply the bread and feed more than 5,000 people in the desert, but without reducing salvation to the sole biological sphere. Man is not simply “what he eats or drinks”. He does not live from bread alone, but also from the Word of God.
Applying this to the Church in general and to the Church in the Holy Land, we have to affirm that its mission is not first of all to solve the economic problems of humanity: housing, food, environment, health, job creation and so on. The Church has done that in the past and continues to do it, especially in the Third World. The Church in the Holy Land risks becoming a welfare organisation for the Christian community. We should not forget that salvation is not reducible to this material side. Salvation is mainly spiritual. The Church has to teach and educate in love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, peacemaking, worship of God and obedience to his will.
In his Christmas message the Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal said: “Above wealth and money, the Holy Land is seeking reconciliation and peace.” ‘Iwill give you all this power and their splendour, for it has been handed over to me, for me to give it to anyone I choose. Do homage, then, to me, and it shall all be yours” (v 6-7). The second temptation is the thirst for power. The Devil promised Jesus to give him power over the world if He would worship him. Also the Church can be tempted this way. She is tempted to think that if only she were powerful she would be better able to spread the Gospel. Wrong. When the Church had temporal power in Europe during the Renaissance period she was at times far away from her genuine mission. At that time she produced powerful and feared popes, but not holy ones. The Church was feared and respected but not loved. Society was Christian but not producing many saints. On the contrary, the Church convinces through her good example, humility and love more than through political power and presumption.
The third temptation is also subtle. As the Devil was defeated by Jesus by the power of the Word of God, he then tried to use the same weapon. “Then he led him to Jerusalem and set him on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are Son of God,’ he said to him, ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says: He has given his angels orders about you, to guard you’.” The meaning of the verse is that the Lord saves his servant when he runs into trouble but not when the servant himself seeks an adventure to test God and oblige Him to come to his rescue. In the first case, the initiative comes from God’s love, the second from human presumption. Jesus again defeated the Devil by using yet another verse: “Do not tempt the Lord your God!” Men and women of all ages are subject to any number of temptations: power, success, money, lust, the negation of the existence of God, self-sufficiency (as if science and progress were without limits and could lead humanity towards the ideal of perfection). We have become addicted to modern technology in which we find our “paradise”. We cannot imagine living without cars, mobile phones, television, the internet and so forth. These tools have become very important in our life. Instead of remaining just instruments, they have become the very things that we work to obtain.
We delude ourselves, thinking that power, success and science without God can lead humanity to happiness. With science we make weapons to kill others. The internet is often used to spread pornography. The media are often used to spread lies. The ideologies of the 20th century, which negated God, led us to two world wars in which tens of millions of people found destruction and death. The Middle East is in need of economic and technological development. But more than that, it needs love, reconciliation and forgiveness.
Mgr William Shomali is the chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem