Get away, Satan! – Mt. 4: 10


   In the Manchester Art Gallery in England there is a painting by Spencer Stanhope entitled simply, “Eve.” In it the serpent is whispering ideas into Eve’s ear. You can tell from the look on her face that she likes what she is hearing. Unseen by her, the serpent is reaching around behind & bending down the branch of the fruit tree, so that as she becomes caught up in these ideas, a bright red apple falls into her open hand. Although in the painting Eve has not yet taken a bite, nonetheless you know that she has crossed the line. The combination of ideas playing over in her mind & the bright red apple in her hand are just too much for her. Paradise is lost. The deep loneliness & estrangement from God have begun. In a very accurate way, the artist has caught the moment of truth that comes with what is called “temptation,” in your life & mine.


   In the midst of temptation, we often feel we are being pulled along too quickly. We don’t have time to think it through, to consult, & to see the implications. There is just the sense that if we don’t act now, we may miss out on something we want. We went along because we could not apply the brake. We were no longer in control. The temptation had the upper hand.

   There is a way in which all temptations, minor & major, include the question of identity, the sense of who we are. In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ temptations are on the level of spiritual identity. Two of them begin with “If you are the Son of God, then ….” Who we think we are is the hidden dimension on which the temptations play. When we do not know who we are, we yield. When we know who we are, we can reach for the resources to resist it.

   Knowing who we are is the flip side of saying who we are not. The ability to say “no” says as much about us as saying “yes” does. Notice that Jesus can say “Get away, Satan!” only after He has said “no” three times. You can hear His irritation & frustration. He refuses the let the Devil dictate who He should be – some false idea of the Messiah.

   Most of us, however, are not clear about our true identity as children of God. So temptations appear to us as options, possibilities that have to be weighed rather then demonic invitations that have to be dismissed. In particular, temptations are attractive because they appeal to our fantasy selves, those aspects of our selves that want to be above it all. How can we remember who we are when we are offered this tantalizing possibility of who we might become? So doing something ultimately destructive goes deeper than just being wrong. It’s what we become in the doing of it. Getting away with a lie can lead to our whole life becoming a lie.

   Remember, temptation always presents itself as something good. It requires a degree of spiritual maturity to refuse to be rushed into something we will later regret. It takes a certain amount of backbone to say “no” when it is appropriate. Lent gives us the opportunity to exercise those muscles that will enhance our backbone. Let’s not fumble the chance to work out.  AMEN!