Many years ago, when I was a young teenager with 2 younger brothers, our extended family on mum’s side gathered for a celebration (Christmas I think?) lunch at the local Revesby Workers Club. It was a buffet lunch, which to the eyes and ears of growing teenage boys is paradise!! All you can eat and the only rule we had was: ‘If you put it on your plate you have to eat it!’ No worries, we thought.
The array of food was mindboggling to us hungry gluttons. Our eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when we saw the selection available. There were soups and the like as starters (I think we sacrificed these to get stuck into the real food), salads and cold meats, a large array of hot food and a whole section of desserts! Our eyes lit up, our stomachs rumbled, and salivary glands worked overtime – we were ready!
It is amazing how the plates filled up as we sampled a bit of this and some of that a little of that over there. We rationalised things believing the plates were small and dug in. In no time at all the plates were cleaned and we were off for the second course, just as exciting and diverse in options. We returned with brimming plates, ready to dig in and clear these up, which we did. Finally, we were ready for dessert and the options were sumptuous – things we’d never seen but wow, they looked, and tasted, good! We devoured these culinary delights in rapid time, not allowing our bodies to actually register how much we’d eaten – there was no time for warnings that we were already full. The soft drinks that came through the meal further filled the last spaces within our alimentary canal. By the time we were ready to leave we began to feel uncomfortable. Walking was okay – but not too fast. By the time we got home we realised that we were uncomfortably stuffed and could only sit around all afternoon regretting, somewhat, our gluttonous feasting.
Such an array of delicious foods was one of the ultimate temptations to growing, hungry boys who were often governed by their stomachs, hunger and food. The seduction of the presentation lured us in. We saw and thought we needed to have as much of this as possible. The more we tasted, the more we wanted, and it felt good, really good – for a time. Then it didn’t and we felt regret for overeating. Of course, memory sometimes helps and sometimes doesn’t. Did I learn from this experience? Perhaps a little but I have often over-eaten, being seduced by the food on offer, choosing more than I need. My eyes are too big for my belly, sometimes. There are usually regrets – especially if it involves eating in the evening and then trying to sleep with a full stomach!
This is the nature of temptation. We are seduced into thinking, believing, we need something, or more of that something and that it will make us happy and fill our lives with joy and contentment. Usually there is a period of happiness, good feelings and a positive response to the thing that tempts us. There is a time when it feels good and right – and then that fades. I have bought many things and like most of us have lots of ‘stuff’ that is lining cupboards, stored in rooms, sheds… I have many books – probably too many to read in one lifetime – and my computer has many files and documents, photos, music… stored. What will I do with all of this stuff? We have lots of CD’s and DVD’s and occasionally listen to or watch one of them. I am bombarded with slick advertising wherever I turn (except for the blessed ABC!), all aimed at seducing me in a moment of yearning, need or weakness to believe I desperately need a new computer, TV, holiday, car, jewellery, vitamins, course of education, wine, meat, vegetables, vitamins, camping gear, clothes, house… On and on the list goes. Most of this advertising goes into the bin or disappears into the ether but sometimes the slick presentation and the seductive promise captures my imagination and I find myself being drawn in. I begin to believe that this promise will make my life complete, fill the gap, make me feel alive, rich, good, successful or whatever it is I feel I need in that moment. Of course, that is the object of advertising – to create a need in my life and offer the solution.
Temptations come in many forms and through many processes. At heart it seems that temptations are about filling a hole in my life that is there. Sometimes that hole becomes obvious through grief and loss or fear or failure, or just being overwhelmed. I want to escape, feel better or have the ache filled in and made better. Temptations come along: ‘If you do this or that; if you buy this or that; if you have this or that experience; if you give yourself to this or that ideology… you will feel better and life will be good’. That’s how addictions start – try this and you will feel better and you find yourself needing more and more and more and you’re deeper in to the abyss of pain and regret along a bad path.
There is, according to Blaise Pascal, a hole in the middle of our being that is ‘God-shaped’. That hole sometimes looks ‘computer-shaped’ or ‘new car-shaped’ or shaped like a bottle of wine or holiday or a new house or the perfect partner or a heroin injection… We fill the hole with stuff but it never works and the hole remains because our deepest yearning is not for more power, more glamour, more wealth and the stuff we can buy. The deep yearning of the human heart is for the deep presence of Divine love in which we can find our rest and our peace.
In this week’s reading, as we begin the journey of Lenten reflection in preparation for Easter, we read of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11 – the Old Testament reading is also about temptation and Adam and Eve in the garden from Genesis 2 and 3). Jesus is taken into the wilderness where he fasts and prays. There the Tempter seeks to lure him into an alternative path and way of being that trusts in his own power, strength and to create his own future. Turn stones into bread because you are hungry (its also relevant and will feed people!). Throw yourself from the highest point of the Temple and have God save you (it is also spectacular and surely people will believe in you!). He is shown all the kingdoms of the world and tempted to make a claim for power over them by submitting to the Tempter and bowing before this one. In all of this Jesus has his identity questioned: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ If you really are this, then demonstrate it. Stand up outside God’s shadow and prove yourself. Jesus does not submit to the temptations but finds his identity and being in God’s love and grace. Food, spectacular acts, power… are not what he needs or wants. They are not who he is and in God’s grace he recognises that he is whole and complete in ways nothing else can provide.
When I recognise the temptations that come my way, I can see that there are many things I have sought or pursued but don’t need. They are nice and maybe fun but will not ease the restlessness in my soul. St Augustine suggested that we will be restless until we rest in God and that is a truth I hear in the story of Jesus and discover for myself when I learn to trust in God. If I find my peace and rest in God, everything else will find its place.