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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.
—Sirach 2:1

Don’t tempt me. We usually say these words facetiously—as in “Don’t put that 1,400-calorie piece of chocolate cake in front of me and expect me to resist it.” And then, invariably, we eat it.

Colloquially, at least, we tend to think of temptations as opportunities to commit “little sins,” things like eating or drinking too much, thinking “impure” thoughts, even sleeping late when we have work to do. 

Reinforcing this interpretation was the routine of ‘70s comedian Flip Wilson, whose character Geraldine entertained audiences with her saucy retort, “The devil made me do it!” It, in most cases, was nothing more than making an impertinent remark or spending too much money on a dress. Hardly the stuff of scandal.

So when we read about Jesus being tempted during his 40-day sojourn in the wilderness, it’s easy to dismiss his experience as a simple test of will: He had three opportunities to give in, but he chose not to do so. Simple as that. Or was it?

Much has been said about the nature of these temptations; each, in itself, was a legitimate, worthy goal—satisfying physical hunger, demonstrating the power of God, and establishing God’s kingdom on earth. But each was also flawed. As with many other choices, the real temptation here lies not in doing something, but in being.

According to the writer of the Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, one who serves God will inevitably face temptation. For those in the church I belonged to as a child, this meant that the faithful were required to stand up against alcohol and drugs, sexual impropriety, bad language, and the rest of the venal sins. To do otherwise would be to set a bad example for the world.

Looking back at the experience of Jesus, however, I’m inclined to say that the greatest temptations are those that lead us to believe we are self-sufficient, that we are in control. Such is the pitfall for those on a spiritual path—to draw close to God, only to imagine that we ourselves are gods.

O God, help me to realize that the strongest temptations lie not in satisfying our physical desires, but in believing that we are the source of our power, that we can exist without you.

Copyright ©2005 Susan Hanson.