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Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: The Test


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


            Test can simply be defined as a means for measuring the skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities, or aptitudes of an individual or group. Normally a quality of a thing or being can be ascertained through the procedure of testing. To be a Christian; is to be tested. What does Holy Scripture say about testing?

            In the Old Testament “testing” refers to the process by which the covenant partner is scrutinized to determine his fidelity in keeping the agreement. In the context of Israel’s relationship with God the process will reveal whether Israel is faithful or not. God can test Israel, but Israel must not test God. Here the testing will show forth the fidelity of the Son of God.

            The devil in Holy Scripture can be seen as the tempter. The word “devil” is the English equivalent of the Greek “diabolos”, which serves as a synonym for Satan (“tester, tempter”). Whereas in pre-exilic times God tests Israel, in post-exilic times that function is given over to Satan (see Job 1-2; Zech 3:1-2; 1 Chr. 21:1). The assumption is that the devil remains under God’s ultimate control. In the case of Jesus, the Spirit of God leads him into the wilderness, and so makes the testing possible.

            In today’s readings meant for our reflection and catechesis, one can see the place of “testing”/temptation in the life of a Christian. Before I analyze each reading, I would like to state that “Nobody is above temptation.” The temptation of Jesus shows that even he, the very Son of God, and God himself, could be tempted. So, we shall be tempted, every one of us. None of us shall escape temptation. As a matter of fact, most of us will be tempted many times over in our lifetime.

            In the tale of the seduction of the first humans, the story of mankind’s fall into sin is explained as a temptation to be like God. The important elements of this narrative are, first of all, that God did not create his creature to be distant from him but to live in a relationship of grace-given friendship with him. Second, God must give a creature to whom he has given the most sublime gift (freedom), a chance to choose freely – one who has been “congealed” within the Good would not be free. And, even if God foreknew that man in this free choice would not resist the temptation to be like God, he also knew at a deeper level in his universal plan that the One whom he would send as his Son to face the same temptation would resist it and would thus, right in the midst of temptation, win the victory over temptation for all of mankind. The first humans fancied that knowledge of good and evil would make them more like God, but whoever wishes to search out “the depths of evil” (cf. Rev 2:24) loses taste for and knowledge of the good, which is God. Since the good is truth and evil is the lie (the serpent lies, the devil is the father of lies; Jn 8:44), sinful man falls into deep.

            The Gospel depicts Jesus’ victory after forty days of fasting, that is, at a moment when naturally he was weakest and most vulnerable to temptation but supernaturally strongest and most confident of victory. His temptation is completely authentic – he experiences the excitement of evil not at the superficial level of sensual satisfaction but at the much deeper level of a temptation to disobey his divine mission. He could gain the favor of the masses by means of a spectacular miracle; he could gain power over the world (which he indeed will win for God) by going in on the deal offered by the one who presently is “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 1 Cor 2:6-8), but for this he would pay the price of being recognized as one of the same. No temptation was greater and more genuine, none more decisive for the fate of the world. Jesus, who recognizes in the temptation the power of evil as well as that of good (God), decides for the good out of genuine human freedom. Three of God’s words from Scripture suffice to rob the devil’s lying scriptural prooftexts of their force (“the devil can cite Scripture to suit his purpose”, Shakespeare says).    

            Obedience to God elevates free choice to perfect freedom.

            In the Second Reading, by repeating the same thought five times, St Paul shows that the pervasiveness and even the intensification of sin in all mankind is outweighed by the obedience of the One who is no mere private individual, but who represents the entirety of humanity before God. His resistance to temptation, his perfect obedience, possesses such power that he brings “all mankind to acquittal”. The statement is so categorial and universal that one might think that all men automatically become righteous through Christ’s action. But that is not what Paul says. Rather, because of what Jesus has done, they are no longer slaves of sin but are offered the grace of righteousness, of being children of God. Instead of slavery to sin they receive the graciously given freedom to decide for righteousness. With that they also receive the freedom to choose to follow Christ in the time of penance that is coming.

            As we reflect on temptation, there is one fact I would like to make very clear: we cannot deal with temptation all by ourselves. We shall always need the help of God. Left to ourselves, we are no match for Satan. He will crush us and grind us to powder. The Apostle Paul says that much in Ephesians 6:12-17: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this world of darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm…” With God on our side, Satan can only depart defeated, as he did in the case of Jesus. He has no chance with God. That is why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from the evil One.” OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP, PRAY FOR US.


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