A fella and his wife were shopping a kiosk in mall when a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. The man couldn’t help himself and followed her with his eyes.
Without looking up from the item she was examining, his wife asked, “Was it worth the trouble you’re in?”
Temptation and sin: every preachers favorite topic.
I feel quite certain that most of us have at one time or another gone out looking for trouble, but I doubt any of us go out looking for temptation. In most cases, temptation is something that arrives on your spiritual doorstep uninvited, but the temptation is not a sin. What you do with that temptation will determine whether or not you’ve sinned. Man sees a pretty girl, he can a) recognize her as pretty—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that or b) let his mind loose with all kinds of desires and fall into sin. Not all temptations are as simple as that, but in the end, most come down to that type of decision. You can “Resist the devil [and the temptation], and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7b) or you can give in to its Siren like calling and sin. Again, the temptation is not a sin. It is what you do with the temptation that is the determining factor.
Another aspect of our temptations is that they are tailor made. They suit our weaknesses and passions perfectly. Some people like fast cars and they can’t help but be tempted to speed. Others like to gossip and they can’t help but chat away when they’re around others. Everything from shopping to alcohol to anger to… we don’t have time to include them all, but if you’ve shown a weakness to something in the past, then you know the devil is going to bring it your way again. As my friend always said, the devil isn’t all that smart because he’s only got a few tricks, only trouble is we keep falling for them. What’s a person to do? In the words of Severus Snape (Harry Potter reference for all you muggles): “Control your emotions! Discipline your mind!” And that really is the answer.
Our temptations are also referred to as “occasions of sin.” If someone is a recovering alcoholic, then an occasion of sin or temptation would be for someone to unwittingly offer them an alcoholic drink. There was no malice on the part of the person offering. They were not some agent of the devil trying to bring the other person down, they were simply being friendly, but it has put the recovering alcoholic in an occasion of sin. What is the person to do with the temptation? “Control your emotions! Discipline your mind!” The controlling of the emotions is something that occurs when the drink is offered, but the disciplining of the mind is something that takes practice over time, before the temptation is presented. For whatever trick of the devil’s that you find yourself falling for time and time again, you have to know beforehand how you will respond or you stand a good chance of falling. So, for the recovering alcoholic, they must mentally walk themselves through various scenarios and determine how it is they’re going to react. “Ok. If someone offers me a drink, I’m going to say, ‘Thank you, but I don’t drink.’” And they have to repeat that to themselves over and over again, so that it is ingrained in their minds. So that their minds are disciplined.
When we talk about temptation and sin, we are talking about the battle for our souls, so this sounds like a rather dry / clinical approach, but ask yourself, “How’s my current method working out?” Then look at the example of our Gospel lesson today: the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Jesus did not go off into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. We are told that he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” I don’t believe he went out there looking for trouble, but it did arrive on his spiritual doorstep. Did he wring his hands and fret: “What do I do? What do I do?” Nope. He answered the devil’s every temptation with Holy Scripture (specifically from the Book of Deuteronomy.) He had control of his emotions and he had disciplined his mind. He had prepared for just such an occasion of sin in advance. Perhaps he did not know what the temptation would be, but he was not foolish to think that they wouldn’t come at all.
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” But you’re going to want a game plan for the resisting bit. Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Approach your spiritual battles in the same manner and you will be far more successful in defeating the temptations that wander up to your spiritual doorstep.
Above all your preparations, pray. Pray for God’s strength to defeat your enemies from whatever direction they may come. St. Paul tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to all. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” That way of escape will be made clear to you through your prayer and your preparation.
One final note: if you fall into sin, learn from your mistakes, repent, confess, and get back in the fight. You are a child of God. You have work to do.
Let us pray: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.