We are surrounded by temptations… thousands of them… constantly. They bombard us from all sides especially through media and advertising. Through the products and trappings of modern life, we can be made healthy, wealthy, and wise. It can be overwhelming if we focus on the cacophony.
Because of this, I used to struggle to understand how the Bible could say that Jesus was finished with every temptation in the desert (Luke 4:13). I counted three. Surely there are more temptations than three, right?
Our ancient Jewish ancestors taught that we are tempted in just three ways: the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, and the pride of life. These are referenced in the New Testament in 1 John 2:16.
We can see the results of the temptation of our first parents in the Garden of Eden in the prose used to describe it. When Eve gave in, the Bible says, The woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh) and pleasing to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom (pride of life) (Gen 3:6). To a Jewish reader it says she was tempted in all ways… and failed.
Where our first parents failed, our Lord brought restoration. When absolutely famished from 40 days of fasting, He was tempted to turn rocks into bread (lust of the flesh). Rather than face the cross, He was offered the kingdoms of the world (lust of the eyes). In contrast to living a life of humble service and obscurity, He was tempted to throw Himself from the Temple so angels would swoop to His rescue (the pride of life). Ref: Luke 4:3-9.
Our Lord went on to give us the tools to deal with our temptations in Matt 6:1-18. When [we] fast… we deny the lust of the flesh. When [we] give alms… we deny the lust of the eyes. When [we] pray… we humble ourselves before God. Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are antidotes to temptation. We aren’t focused on our own desires when we deny our flesh in fasting. We aren’t focused on all we want when we are giving to others in charity. We aren’t focused on our own greatness when we acknowledge the providence and sovereignty of God.
Another interesting observation is that the lust of the flesh tempts us to sin against our own bodies through lust, gluttony, and sloth. The lust of the eyes tempts us to sin against others through greed, envy, and anger. The pride of life tempts us to sin against God in thinking we can be gods and greater than other people.
In fasting, we deal with our own flesh. In almsgiving, we show charity to others. In prayer, we are humble before God. In a way, it could be said that we are tempted to sin against ourselves, against others, and against God.
I consider these thoughts in The Personal Rosary in the following reflections:
When I am tempted to unnaturally fulfill the desires of my flesh, may I envision Your pain and deny temptation through conscious acts of self-denial.
When I am tempted to take what is not meant for me, may I envision Your stripes and deny temptation through acts of charity.
When I am tempted to pridefully make of myself more than God has made me to be, may I envision Your sorrow and humble myself in prayer.