The Gospel Train Reaches Temptation Station – Stay on Board, Children! A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

There’s an old gospel song tradition that speaks of the Christian life as a ride on the “gospel train.” The gospel train is not always an easy ride with perfect scenery, but you’ve gotta get your ticket and stay on board.

Mysteriously, the train sometimes passes through difficult terrain, but just stay on board! On His way to glory, Jesus faced trials, hatred, and even temptation (yet without sinning).

Today the gospel train pulls into “Temptation Station” and we are asked to consider some of life’s temptations. The three temptations faced by Jesus are surely on wide display in our own times. What are these temptations and how do we resist them?

In this desert scene, the Lord Jesus faces down three fundamental areas of temptation, all of which have one thing in common: they seek to substitute a couch for the cross.

In a way, the devil has one argument: “Why the cross?” His question is a rhetorical one. He wants you to blame God for the cross, and in your anger, to reject Him as some sort of despot.

Well, pay attention, Church! The cross comes from the fact that you and I, ratifying Adam and Eve’s choice, have rejected the tree of life in favor of the tree that brought death. We, along with the devil, may wish to wince at the cross and scornfully blame God for it, but in the end the cross was our choice.

If you think that you have never chosen the tree of death and that God is “unfair,” then prove to me that you have never sinned. Only if you can do that will I accept that you have never chosen the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil over the Tree of Life and that you deserve something better than the cross. Only then will I accept that you have never insisted on “knowing” evil as well as good.

If you can’t, then you’ve made the same self-destructive, absurd choice that the rest of us have. It is not God that is cruel but we who are wicked and are to blame for the presence of the cross. The cross comes not from God but from us. We ought to stop blaming God for evil, suffering, and the cross, and instead look in the mirror. The glory of this gospel is that the Lord Jesus came into this twisted world of our making and endured its full absurdity for our sake. If there is evil in this world, it is our choice, not God’s.

Have we finished blaming God? Are we ready to focus on our own issues? If so then let’s look at some areas of temptation that the devil can exploit because we indulge them. Let’s also see the answer that the Lord Jesus has for these temptations; for He, though tempted, never yielded.

Pleasures and Passions – The devil encourages Jesus to turn stones into bread. After such a long fast, the thought of bread is surely a strong temptation. In effect, the devil tells Jesus to “scratch where it itches,” to indulge His desire, to give in to what His body craves.

We, too, have many desires and are told by the devil in many ways to “scratch where it itches.” Perhaps no generation before has faced such strong temptation. We live in a consumer culture that is highly skilled at eliciting and then satisfying our every desire. All day long, we are bombarded with advertisements that arouse desire and then advise us that we simply must fulfill those desires. If something is out of stock or unavailable in exactly the way we want at the instant we want it, we are indignant. Why should I have to wait? Why can’t I have it in that color? The advertiser’s basic message is that you can have it all. This is a lie, of course, but it is told so frequently that we feel entitled to just about everything.

Some of our biggest cultural problems are ones stemming from overindulgence. We are a culture that struggles with obesity, addiction, sexual misconduct, and greed. We experience overstimulation that robs us of a reasonable attention span; boredom is a significant issue for many who are too used to the frantic pace of video games and action movies. We have done well in turning stones into bread.

Jesus rebukes the devil, saying, Man does not live on bread alone. In other words, there are things that are just more important than bread and circuses, than creature comforts and indulgence. Elsewhere Jesus says, A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Lk 12:15). I have written further on this in another post: The Most Important Things in Life Aren’t Things.

Popularity and Power – Taking Jesus up a high mountain, the devil shows Him all the nations and people of the earth and promises them to Him if Jesus will but bow down and worship him. This is a temptation to both power and popularity; the devil promises Jesus not only sovereignty but glory.

Because most of us are not likely to become sovereigns and because temptation is only strong in those matters that seem remotely possible for us, I will focus instead on popularity—something we deal with regularly in this life. One of the deeper wounds in our soul is the extreme need that most of us have to be liked, to be popular, to be respected, and to fit in. We dread being laughed at, scorned, or ridiculed. We cannot stand the thought of feeling minimized in any way.

For many people the desire for popularity is so strong that they’ll do almost anything to attain it. It usually starts in youth, when peer pressure “causes” young people to do many foolish things. They may join gangs, get tattoos, pierce their bodies, and/or wear outlandish clothes. Many a young lady, desperate to have a boyfriend (and thus feel loved and/or impress her friends), will sleep with boys or do other inappropriate things in order to gain that “love.” As we get older, we might be tempted to bear false witness, to make “compromises” to advance our career, to lie to impress others, to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t really need, and/or to try to impress people whom we don’t even like. Likewise, we may be tempted to be silent when we should speak out for what is right.

All of this is a way of bowing before the devil, because it demonstrates that we are willing to sin in order to fit in, to advance, or to be popular. Jesus says, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.

The real solution to this terrible temptation of popularity is to fear the Lord. When we fear God, we need fear no one else. If I can kneel before God I can stand before any man. If God is the only one we need to please, then we don’t have to expend effort trying to please anyone else. I have written more on this matter elsewhere: What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?.

Presumption and Pride – Finally (for now) the devil encourages Jesus to test God’s love for Him by casting Himself off the highest wall of the Temple Mount. Does not Scripture say that God will rescue Him? The devil quotes Psalm 91: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone. In our time the sin of presumption is epidemic.

Many people think that they can go one behaving sinfully, recklessly, and wantonly and that they will never face punishment. “God is love,” they boldly say. “He would never send people to Hell or punish them!” In saying this, they reject literally thousands of verses of Scripture that say otherwise; they have refashioned God and worship a man-made idol. “God doesn’t care whether I go to Church,” they claim. “He doesn’t mind if I live with my girlfriend.” The list of things God “doesn’t mind” continues to grow.

The attitude seems to be that no matter what I do, God will save me. It is presumptuous to speak or think like this. Hell and punishment are surely difficult teachings to fully comprehend and to reconcile with God’s patience and mercy, but He teaches of them and therefore we need to stop pretending He doesn’t.

I have written elsewhere on the topic of Hell and why it makes sense in the context of a God who loves and respects us: Hell Has to Be.

A mitigated form of presumption is procrastination, wherein we constantly put our return to the Lord out of our mind. About this tendency it is said,

There were three demons summoned by Satan as to their plan to entrap as many human beings as possible. The first demon announced that he would tell them there is no God. But Satan wasn’t too impressed. “You’ll get a few, but not many and even those atheists are mostly lying and know deep down inside that someone greater than they made them and all things.” The second demon said he would tell them there is no devil. But Satan said, “That won’t work, most of them have already met me and know my power.” Finally, the third demon said, “I will not tell them there is no God or no devil, I will simply tell them there is no hurry!” And Satan smiled an ugly grin and said, “You’re the man!”

Jesus rebukes the devil by quoting Deuteronomy: You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We ought to be very careful about presumption, for it is widespread today.

This does not mean that we have to retreat into fear and scrupulosity. God loves us and is rich in mercy, but we cannot willfully go on calling “no big deal” what He calls sin. We should be sober about sin and call on the Lord’s mercy rather than doubting that we that really need it or just presuming that He doesn’t mind.

The train is leaving the station soon. I hope that we’ve all benefited from this brief stop and have stored up provisions for the journey ahead: insight, resolve, appreciation, understanding, determination, and hope.

The journey ahead is scenic but difficult and temptation is a reality, but as an old gospel song says, “The gospel train’s comin’, I hear it just at hand. I hear the car wheel rumblin’ and rollin’ thro’ the land. Get on board little children, get on board. There’s room for many more!”

Never heard the song? Here’s a rendition of it:

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Gospel Train Reaches Temptation Station – Stay on Board, Children!

4 Replies to “The Gospel Train Reaches Temptation Station – Stay on Board, Children! A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent”

  1. Good thing that our Holy Father too is sharing a similar message with the kids as well , in his as usual down to earth style .
    http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/homilies/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20190303_omelia-visita-sancrispino.html
    Some parents seem to think that kids should be spared from such a topic and here , it seems , our Holy Father is even training them , in a mini training in deliverance as well . Our times probably need same too , when the chance for the many seductive images and voices can come at even little ones on many occasions .
    The many ways God tries to reach in , to change the appetites of our hearts so that they itch , only to live for the glory of The Father – the same ‘ food ‘ that our Lord lived by .
    May His Spirit help us all too , to keep renouncing every spirit that keeps us bound / hardened /confused so that the glory of The Father becomes our joy and peace as well , in and with our Lord .

  2. Came across an employee , at a Pizza place the other day , who came to work , wearing a satanic hat and pentagram ; brought up in the Baptist faith, seemed well intent on her present choice . Wondering if the lying words of the enemy in today’s readings had tempted her as well – ‘I will give you all these kingdoms ‘ and showing it all , to The Lord ‘ in an instant ‘ like in the eternal now ..
    Our Lord possibly having allowed same, to warn us , that
    the enemy still has some of the the angelic powers – given by God ofcourse ; our good Father , who deal with all with utmost justice and truth and in timely manner , having not yet taken away such from the enemy , in spite of his rebellion , until he would be chained one day .
    Those kingdoms that he claims to own , he lies as to the source of whatever has been good in them , the wisdom to do anything good being from God ..and ofcourse scripture repeatedly reminds us that everything belongs to God .
    The next temptation reveals the true intentions of the enemy , to
    destroy us by tempting us into the sin of presumption , just as happened to our First Parents , to get us into the idolatry of the false image / nature of God , to deny the price of The Passion , being what undo the effect of every evil choice in our lives .
    Our Bl.Mother , in sort of questioning Angel Gabriel , at the Annunciation , undo the occasion , making sure that the Angel in front of her is well aware of the mind and heart of God , for the virgin birth – prophesied in O.T and she having been brought up in the temple well aware of it as well .
    May the life giving words at every Holy Mass as well of confession and other sacraments and related prayers as well , be heard and taken in , into the depths of our hearts , to set us free , to live for God , in trusting gratitude , defeating the lies of the liar , helping to do so for others too .
    Thank you and God bless !

  3. Don’t the first words of this Sunday’s gospel “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil” contradict attempts to change the “lead us not into temptation” of the Our Father? So why are some trying to say that God won’t let us be tempted?

  4. Asking for apologies for the itching to respond 🙂
    It is our Lord Himself , who taught the Our Father prayer in which are those words – ‘do not lead us into temptation ‘ ,
    one of the the relevant articles here – https://www.franciscanmedia.org/lords-prayer-germans-stick-with-wording-italians-to-change-at-mass/
    well, one can argue that The Spirit led our Lord into the desert , primarily for prayer and fasting , thus to garner strength against the enemy , His mission being to destroy its works .
    Our roles being to ask for the fruits of His mission to be taken in more deeply , that our fallen desires do not lead us into temptations but the desire to live for the glory of The Father keeping us away from the foe . Would wait for the blessings of the prayers of Rev . Msgr and others , for The Spirit and His wisdom , for furthur clarification 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.