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AVOIDING THE FACILE

In Lent we are bidden to accompany Christ our Lord into the wilderness. What did He find in the Judean desert? He found hunger, coldness, dryness, emptiness. Most of all, He found temptation. He was tempted in all things as we are. Christ confronted all the demons that we ourselves have to confront, but in His case He did not capitulate.

The Gospels give us three of the temptations which the devil threw at Him. Doubtless there were many more, but the Gospels describe three in particular. They included the attraction of accomplishing His mission on the cheap. The devil tempted Christ to do what would have looked like very impressive magic; to throw Himself down from the top of the Temple, He will give His angels charge over thee, then stop half-way down in mid-air. That would certainly impress the crowds. Never mind converting hearts and minds by love and sacrifice. Just be Superman. Convert the world with a  flashy trick. Deny God’s truth, and avoid the pain.

Our Lord confronted the temptation and avoided the sin. But at the end of the episode the Gospel says that the devil departed from Him ‘to return at the appointed time’. The evil one was not giving up. He would return for another onslaught at a later time. We all know from our own bouts of dancing with the devil that he never sleeps. He pulls the same pathetic tricks over and over again.

The same temptation that came to Christ in the wilderness was hurled at Him again as He offered His life to the Father on the Cross. On Calvary the crowd taunted Him: if you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross, then we’ll believe in you. There was the same temptation that He had resisted in the desert, three years earlier; throw yourself down from the top of the Temple. Now it was throw yourself down from the Cross. But Christ avoided the easy way out. Instead of coming down from the Cross, He bowed His Head, and bequeathed the Spirit.

In our Christian mission to evangelize all nations, cheap populism and dumbed-down doctrine are a pernicious temptation. It is the temptation to try and align Gospel truth with non-Christian chimeras and secular delusions. The devil’s tricks are repetitious. He repeats them again and again from generation to generation.

In our time we are seeing an all too familiar error being reinforced and re-presented with renewed energy; the continuing attempt to accommodate the Christian revelation to contemporary geo-political expediency and political correctness.