Sermon: Temptations vs. Sin

If I was to have a favorite televangelist it would be Jesse Duplantis. I think his theology is a bit off, but the stories he tells are brilliant.

On one occasion he told of a priest who received a phone call at 2:00 a.m. from a highly agitated parishioner. The problem was temptation. The priest pointed out the time and asked if they might be able to set a meeting for bit later in the day, but the parishioner was insistent. After a few more attempts, the priest agreed to meet the man down at his office. It was about 3:00 a.m. by the time they both arrived and the man immediately began complaining about all the temptation in his life.

“Father, it is always out there. I pass by a bar and I want to go in and have drink. I’m married, but every time I pass by a pretty girly I want to stop and ask her name. All those flashing neon lights at the casinos just make me crazy!” On and on he went.

So after over an hour of this, the priest asked, “So what is it you would like me to do for you?”

“Father, I want you to pray that all the temptation be removed from life.”

“That’s just not possible,” the priest responded.

The man insisted that it was and by the time he finished complaining, the priest was feeling far less than charitable.

Finally having enough of it, the priest said, “Ok. I’m going to lay my hands on you and pray that the Lord will take away all your temptations.”

“Thank you, Father,” the man blubbered.

The priest stood, placed his hands on the man’s head and began by invoking the Holy Spirit and the blessed angels to assist him and then prayed, “Lord, kill this man.”

The problem in our lives is sin, not temptation. As we read today, even Jesus was tempted, and as St. Bernard said, “He that tempted Christ will not be expected to spare men.” However, a mistake that we can make that may cause a certain spiritual anxiety is to equate those temptations to sin and to feel that we have failed simply because we were tempted. That is not the case. And, although we fight to overcome the temptations and pray that we should not be lead into evil, the temptations can serve the purpose of making us stronger, provided we fight against them.

A story from the Desert Fathers: Abbot John prayed to the Lord that all passion be taken from him. His prayer was granted. He became impassible [he didn’t experience the suffering of temptation]. In this condition he went to one of the elders and said: “You see before you a man who is completely at rest and has no more temptations.” The elder surprised him. Instead of praising him, the elder said: “Go and pray to the Lord to command some struggle to be stirred up in you, for the soul is matured only in battles.” Abbot John did this, and when the temptations started up again, he did not pray that the struggle be taken away from him. Instead he prayed: “Lord, give me strength to get through the fight.”

Remember St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Therefore, when you are tempted, don’t see yourself as defeated. The battle is only just beginning. So, pray that short prayer, “Lord, give me strength to get through the fight,” then stand and fight.

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