Threefold lust: Satan’s playground
In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard from Matthew’s gospel (Mt 4:1-11) about the temptation of Jesus in the desert by Satan. I often wondered why Jesus let himself be tempted and why he didn’t just crush the devil at this time. To understand why Jesus was tempted, we have to go back to Genesis 3.
When the serpent entered the garden, he tempted Eve with half-truths. He told Eve that if she ate the fruit, she would not die and that her eyes would be opened and she would be like a god. The serpent was right in the fact that she would not physically die at the moment she ate the fruit, but she did in fact die spiritually for disobeying God. Adam and Eve thought that if they ate the fruit they would become like God, when in fact they were already in a state of original holiness. Gen 3:6 is very telling of why Eve ate the fruit because it states, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.”
Adam and Eve succombed to what is called the threefold lust: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. It can be described as a disordered desire for fleshly pleasure, material posessions, and power. These three desires are not wrong in themselves, but are sinful when they are not directed towards God. The threefold lust is the root cause of all sin. 1 Jn 2:16 states, “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Now we fast forward back to the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is in the desert and Satan tempts him by asking him to turn stones into bread. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3). Jesus has been in the desert for forty days and is probably very famished. But Jesus refuses to give into the lust of the flesh.
Satan then tempts Jesus to throw himself from the temple in order to force God to save him. This time, Jesus does not give into the temptation of the pride of life sin, or in other words, thinking that he is more powerful than the Father.
Lastly, Satan tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, and again Jesus refuses to indulge the temptation of the lust of the eyes.
So why did Jesus go into the desert to be tempted? To pass the test that Adam and Eve could not. In order to fully redeem humanity from sin, he at first had to be placed in the situation that caused the fall. Of course, Jesus was not forced to do anything, he freely submitted to withdraw to the desert to be tempted by the devil.
What was Jesus doing in the desert before the devil came? He was fasting and praying. What are we called to do during our forty days in the desert (Lent)? We are called to fast, pray, and give alms. The only reason Jesus didn’t give alms is because he never had money!
The tradition of the Church has called us to do these three practices especially during Lent to combat the threefold lust. We pray to God because we know he is all-powerful and that we are not God. We fast in order to help our body to overcome physical temptation and so our flesh does not overcome our spirit. Lastly, we give alms in order to fight the temptation of gathering possessions merely for ourselves.
Let’s make a special effort to combat these temptations and to purify ourselves for the celebration of Easter!