Sunday, October 13, 2013

Spiritual Warfare (III of IV)

Talk given on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 at Saint Ambrose in Latham, NY
[The following segments are not meant to be an all encompassing presentation on spiritual warfare, but rather, they are simple reflections from my own understanding and encounter with spiritual warfare. The first lesson was "Know the Way of God." The second was "The devil will attack you by attacking the ones you love." Today's is "The trial comes when we are strong." The fourth will be "The Good Fight."

Third Lesson: The Trial comes when we are strong.
Key Text: Matthew 4.1-11

The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down; for it is written,
'He will give his angels charge of you.'" ( Mt 4.6)
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
And calls himself a child of the Lord…
Let us test him with insult and torture,
That we may find out how gentle he is,
And make trial of his forebearance.[1]
Often, the one who is faithful in living out the faith will find themselves subject to a test that would seem to be beneath a mature follower of Christ to endure. They will say, “I should not be tempted by this! I pray daily! I go to mass when I ought to go. I love God and I love my neighbor. Why am I attracted to a sin such as this?” To this I point out, it is written, my son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.[2] Note that Jesus was tempted at the end of forty days of prayer and fasting. Theoretically, after such an intimate time of prayer with the Father, it should be harder for us to stumble and fall. Yet this is when the devil will always delight to attack us. Think of it and it will make sense. Remember that the devil has no need to cause us to stumble if we are far from God. Indeed, he will seek to make life pleasant so that the sinner does not think to himself that there is greater meaning to life. Yet for the one close to Christ, if a fall is gained by the devil, then he has accomplished two things. The first is that the fall is all the more disheartening for the faithful because they know more than most the significance of the fall. The second is that those who look at the faithful and see their shame will think, “If Christ cannot help this person, what hope is there for me?” This is why the Psalmist prays, let not those who seek thee be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek thee be brought dishonor through me.[3] First, let us remember the virtue of humility. At the beginning, I wrote how we must always remember and confess that we are sinners. In doing so, people will be forgiving when we stumble, because we have never put on false masks. It is why Paul always made his confession, saying, this saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.[4]

Pictured Above: The foremost of sinners. 

As regards the three temptations of Christ, we can see certain pearls of wisdom woven throughout the text. The first comes in noting how Christ responds to temptation. He is the Word of God Incarnate. He could have refuted the devil with his own words, and they would have been authoritative, as they are indeed throughout the entirety of the gospels. Yet Jesus chooses to use scripture to defend against the snares of the devil. This is significant for two reasons. The first is that they are worthy of trust in the realm of spiritual warfare, as the Apostle affirms when he said, all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[5] This is important for us because we need to understand that temptation comes usually when our mind is not clear (for if any of us understood the horror of sin, we would never choose it). Sin has the effect of weakening of the will and the darkening of the intellect. If we have something that is objectively beyond us (Scripture and the Church’s teachings), then in those moments of weakness, we will have something to reach out to, to pull us out of the storm. The light of the lighthouse is not useful because it is within the ship. It is useful because it is on the shore, giving the ship a fixed point by which to navigate the shore amidst the storm. Our Lord sets the example for us by using scripture to defeat the devil.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1.5)

The second thing we can from our Lord’s response is how to use scripture. Note that the devil at one point tries to use scripture to tempt our Lord, saying, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ [6] Jesus’ response shows us how scripture is properly used, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.[7] The two greatest commandments are You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.[8] This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.[9] On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.[10] People will try to use any means necessary to try and get out of what is proper to them. You can find any verse of scripture or any code of canon law to justify something that you want to do, taking it out of its proper context. One must remember that any reading of scripture must be read in light of the two greatest commandments. The devil failed in his quoting of scripture, because to if a man were to do what was tempted, it would not have been out of love of God, but rather a love of self and a desire to see if God loved the self as much as they loved themselves.
There is something worth mentioning as we reflect upon the temptation of Christ Jesus. We must remember that Christ has already conquered the world. We are assured of victory as long as we remain in Christ, and Christ desperately wants us to remain in his love. It is for this reason that the blessed Paul was able to write with confidence, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.[11] We are not driven out into the desert to fail. Remember it was the spirit that lead Jesus out into the dessert. Rather, we are given to times of trial so that we are made stronger in our spiritual journey. As it is written: In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our forefathers. Remember what he did with Abraham,[12] and how he tested Isaac, and what happened to Jacob in Mesopotamia in Syria,[13] while he was keeping the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother. For he has not tried us with fire, as he did them, to search their hearts, nor has he taken revenge upon us; but the Lord scourges those who draw near to him, in order to admonish them.[14]

"I will put this [them] into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They shall call on my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, 'They are my people';
and they will say, 'The LORD is my God." (Zech 13.9)

[1] Wisdom 2.12-13, 19
[2] Sirach 2.1
[3] Psalm 69(68).6
[4] I Timothy 1.15-16
[5] II Timothy 3.16-17
[6] Matthew 4.6; cf. Psalm 91.11-12
[7] Matthew 4.7; cf. Deuteronomy 6.16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
[8] cf. Deuteronomy 6.4-7
[9] cf. Leviticus 19.18
[10] Matthew 22.37-40
[11] I Corinthians 10.13
[12] cf. Genesis 22.1-14
[13] cf. Genesis 29.1-31
[14] Judith 8.25-27; cf. Hebrews 12.5-11: 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

1 comment:

  1. But we pray "lead us not into temptation". This feels like a contradiction.