Summary: A look at temptation and how prayer can keep us from it.
Terms with Temptation
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
Every once in a while there is a time when you can see both the sun and the moon. It is a rare moment of clarity that serves as a reminder of the coexistence of day and night which makes up our whole existence. Like our celestial surroundings, we too are made of a co-existence. Our thoughts, feelings and lives have the potential of both the sunshine and the darkness, the shadow and the light.
Our rabbi knows the soul is fluid and fully capable of any placement between the two extremes. Thus he advises us to pray so that we will not stray lost into the night. His love-filled warning brings to us more questions than initial solace. What is temptation and why do we face it? How can prayer help?
Temptation is the twilight. Or the dawn. The moment you stand on the brink of the horizon seeing both sides of the continuum. The interval, sometimes a year - sometimes a millisecond, in which you decide what hemisphere of time you wish to occupy. It is not a coincidence that this discourse occurs after the Last Supper. The Passover meal, which begins as the sun descends, ends at twilight with only streaks of fading light remaining to symbolize the presence of hope in the night.
As Jesus prepared himself for the betrayal, abandonment, arrest, torture and death that would befall him, he understood the moment of temptation. The opportunity to run was all around him, and he could have avoided the horrible night to come. Instead, he knelt and prayed. He admitted his temptation to avoid the suffering and he re-affirmed his desire to do the will of God. His honesty and determination were upheld as an angel appeared to strengthen him. Jesus overcame the temptation to run into the darkness of denial and cowardly flight. He chose the dawn of Easter morning.
Temptation, in more common terms, is the moment when each person must develop the ability to discern good from evil and chose good. It is not enough to be able to see both paths. The point of temptation is to make you strong enough to see pits and hazards of the way of righteousness and walk down it anyway. Temptation is the Gold’s Gym of spirituality. The place where we exercise our faith and grow in courage.
An everyday opportunity to win the struggle, temptation is prevalent everywhere we turn. A friend invites you to a place you do not wish to go. You can use the easy lie, or take the pains to explain the truth. Morning or night? A woman with different ideas comments on your parental skills. You can listen to her thoughts and make up your own mind while still embracing her in Christian love, or say a petty, harmful thing to hurt her. Dawn or twilight? A boss from a rival company offers you a substantial position if you disclose secrets entrusted to your care. Shadow or light?
Prayer, like the angel who appeared to Jesus, strengthens us. The discipline required for an active daily prayer life is the same power we can use to turn away from the bad choices, no matter how tempting they may be. To be in communication with our creator gives us the backbone we need to remember who we are and whose we are. To ask is to receive, and to pray is to begin to chose the light.
Notice Jesus was not immediately rewarded after choosing to do God’s will. When our rabbi went back to the disciples he didn’t find them waiting and cheering for him. He found them asleep. Sometimes when we make a choice we hope for instant gratification and reinforcement of our decision. We discover, much to our dismay, the road is as hard as it looks and the pitfalls are real. But by prayer we invite the Ruler of All to walk with us and keep us on the path we long to travel to the dawn.