Summary: Lent I (B) midweek. The source of temptation is our own sinful desires within us. Therefore, we look to Christ who purifies our hearts, to deliver us from temptation.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Ashes of Temptation”
Our world today is full of temptation, isn’t it? You don’t even have to go looking for it anymore. Temptations come to us. On the television, in the movies, and on the internet. Temptations of every kind and sorted kind are readily there. Whether it’s gluttony, greed, or grog, drunkeness or debauchery, it’s all there. And it’s not only beer and babes, temptations common to men. There is fashion and footwear, bling and beauty, spa days and lattes. And chocolates. Temptation is gender neutral.
Of course, we wish to avoid temptation, or ought to. And so we try to eliminate these “opportunities.” And we should. Temptation may knock on our door anyway, but we don’t have to send it an invitation to show up nor welcome it in. “If it’s not there, you won’t be tempted,” the saying goes. While there is a degree of truth to that, it isn’t the whole picture, is it.
James reminds us that the temptation is really on the inside of us. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” It’s not the stuff around us that tempts us, but our own sinful hearts. We know this is true. We can eliminate all the opportunities for temptation from our environment, from our home, but temptation will still come. We may keep no ice cream at home, so that it does not tempt us. Yet, in the midst of that barren cupboard the temptation and desire for ice cream will arise, springing up within us. And soon we find ourselves at the Dairy Queen or the frozen foods of the grocery store. The temptation came from within, not from without. We find ourselves standing there, enticed by our own desires. If this is true of ice cream, how much more true is it of the greater temptations we battle?
King Solomon explained the powerful nature of this desire. He writes in Proverbs, “Can a man carry fire close to his heart and his clothing not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27) The image is of a person carrying a flaming torch in their hand, and rather than holding it high up, they carry it at chest level. The flames will easily leap out, and singe their clothes. That is the external image portrayed. But it is easy to see the underlying spiritual truth of the proverb, too. If one allows their heart to burn with passion – not only lust, but a burning desire for anything – they will get burned by their own passion. Even if the passion is not acted on or acted out, there will be an effect on the outer demeanor, appearance, or behavior. You may recall that effect – how you feel driven or compelled, and how the desire occupies every space of your thoughts, trying to burn and etch itself into your mind. So it may not actually burn you, but it will smudge, singe, and scorch your outer appearance, that is, it burns “your clothes” in the words of the proverb. Such unchecked passion burns our clothes spiritually, too. Our spiritual self, which has been dressed in a white robe of righteousness, is marred and discolored by the temptation which burned in our hearts. Our conscience is roasted. It loses its sense of purity.
We want to say “the devil made me do it.” But that is not so. Or sometimes we may question God. But James warns us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” The catechism teaches us the same, almost word for word. “Lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God indeed tempts no one.” In the final analysis, the fault of temptation is mine and yours. It is ours and ours alone.
And so, temptation leaves its ashes on us. James also tells us how temptation which comes from passion gives birth to sin, and sin gives birth to death. That is how it was in the Garden. Adam and Eve saw the fruit and “that the tree was to be desired, to make one wise.” And desire gave birth to sin, and sin to death.
It’s a morbid thought, isn’t it: “giving birth to death.” The miracle of birth is supposed to give life. But sin turned it all around. And out of the very thing that brings and gives life, comes no life. But death.
Temptation leaves us marred with ashes, and when it runs its full course to the poison fruit of sin and death, leaves us in ashes, destroyed and consumed by its fire, by the fires of our wrongful passions. We, like Job, find ourselves sitting in a heap of ashes. There is a deep truth hidden in the nursery rhyme, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”