Lead us not into temptation

We are beginning not only the Lenten season but also the electoral season.  We have 40 days to anticipate the sure promise of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday; we have 60 days to reflect on and weigh up the multiple, but much less certain, promises that will come from political parties between now and the election on 7th May.

As always, our readings for Lent start on this first Sunday with the consoling and disturbing story of Jesus being tempted. It is consoling because Jesus does not give in to temptation. It is disturbing because all the temptations presented in it are temptations to do good. And, to cap it all, they are temptations presented to someone who is vulnerable (hungry) and therefore potentially not able to make a wise discernment.

Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread, to test whether God will save him, and to worship the devil in return for power and riches. We might sum up the three temptations of Jesus as the 3 Cs: charity, charisma and compromise.

In the first, he is offered the possibility of winning a following by showing great charity: feeding the starving (a temptation to anyone who, like him, is hungry). This is the temptation of the idealist or the philanthropist.

In the second, he is tempted to win friends by showing off his power: how easy it would be to abandon the normal, often slow and tedious, practices of winning over friends and enemies alike and, in doing so, to gain control of a situation. This is the risk faced by any religious or political leader: to hide behind charisma and use it to dazzle followers into obedience.

The third, and perhaps the most dangerous, is to acknowledge that one is constrained by the world in which one lives and to tailor one’s message to what is possible. This is the temptation of the professional politician.

For someone weakened by hunger in whatever form – be it for food, for material goods, for love or for power – all three are great temptations unless guided by a greater sense of vision, which we might see as the action of the Holy Spirit.

But Jesus is a Spirit-filled person.  He sees through the temptations to do good; he proceeds on his path that will lead him through both success and failure, adulation and conflict, to the Cross and Resurrection, his ultimate vindication.

As we look upon South Africa, and upon those who led us and lead us, we need to examine how their policies shape up. We need the wisdom to discern between quick-fixes and policies that will bear long term fruit. Has charity created dependence on the largesse of leadership, or has it empowered entrepreneurship? Has charisma left us in awe of leaders, or has it untapped our own inner strength? Has compromise been a tool for realism and reconciliation, or a weapon used to preserve an unjust status quo?

We need a discerning eye to see through the false consolations that illusions bring, and see instead those things that bear good and lasting fruit.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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