Saturday, February 24, 2007

Temptation


A study on human behavior was carried out at Stanford University. Pre-school children were seated at a large table and a big fluffy marshmallow was put in front of each of them. The researchers said “Children, we’re going to leave the classroom for a short time. While we are gone you are not to touch the marshmallow. If you resist the temptation and wait until we return, you will be rewarded with an extra marshmallow. So what do you think happened? How did they cope with the temptation? Well, as soon as the door closed, some of the children could not wait, they grabbed the marshmallow and swallowed it. But some decided to wait. They had to put into action a strategy to deal with the temptation. One child knowing his strengths and weaknesses pulled his chair to the end of the room, thus removing himself from the temptation. A second child marched around the room singing a song. A third turned around, so that her back was to the marshmallow.

Temptation is part of the human condition. Only us humans can be tempted. A bird can fly in the sky but it cannot be tempted. A dog is man’s best friend but he cannot be God’s best friend in the way we are. To be human is to be tempted. The temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden and the temptation of Jesus in the desert is the story of every man and woman under the sun.

Saint Paul looked at himself and described the symptoms of temptation like this: “I do not understand my own actions. The evil I want to avoid I do. The good I want to do I avoid.” This is a remarkable analysis of the human condition. Men and women are never more credible than when they admit their mistakes. Unfortunately this kind of honesty is short in supply. When we do wrong we are quick to plead innocence, blame someone, anyone but ourselves. We are like Adam and Eve. When found out and confronted by God, they went straight into denial. Adam blamed his wife Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and the serpent blamed God for his misfortune.

Times have changed but human nature has not. We have a tendency to blame someone else and we are full of excuses. There is a failure to accept personal responsibility. It’s always someone else who drove me to do it! The implication is this: I am not to blame for my actions, you are to blame. Sadly we can go through life blaming others for our sins. Blaming others makes us feel better but it changes nothing inside us.

We do a great disservice when we cover up outrageous and irresponsible behavior. When we get into trouble and are found out, our problems are compounded by well-intentioned family members and friends. They feel sorry for us, become over protective, make excuses, tell lies, cover-up, let us off the hook, bail us out and allow us to get off scot-free. We are given more lives than five back alley cats put together. Perhaps without realizing it and with the best intentions, they enable us to continue living a negative and destructive lifestyle. In this kind if world, our actions do not have consequences. It is easy to become accomplished manipulators without any sense of guilt. The chances are that we will remain in a permanent state of adolescence. Something to think about, maybe half of the prison population would have never ended up behind bars had well meaning people never covered up for their irresponsible and outrageous behavior.

Is there anything unique about being human? Well, man is the only animal that blushes or better said, man is the only animal with good reason to blush. What was the first thing Adam and Eve did when they realized that they had sinned was that they knew that they were naked. They were ashamed and hid themselves. They were blushing! When we sin we are not blushing, we are denying our humanity. We are being amoral. Nowadays we hear a lot about human rights. We stand up for our rights but it is not enough for us to simply proclaim our rights, we must go further and also proclaim our responsibilities. We are responsible for our actions unless we are criminally insane and morally incapable.

Think of how different the outcome would have been if Adam and Eve instead of running off and going into hiding and blaming someone else had turned to God and said “Forgive me Father for I have sinned.” Instead of it being the fall of mankind it would have been the rise of mankind. Let us stop pretending all is well and good. Let’s stop burying our heads in the sand. Let us confess to Papa God, “Forgive me Father, I’m not perfect, I’m no angel. I’m not as innocent as I look. I’m weak. I’m fallible. I’m a sinner. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. Have mercy on me Father, a sinner.” This is being human and Christian. We are telling the truth and telling the truth is a sign of strength not weakness.

Temptation goes with territory, it goes with being free. We have choices and we are who we are because of our choices. Temptation is always a choice between two alternatives, good and evil. In the desert we see Jesus chose the tremendous, to lay down His life for his friends and to live for others not himself. There are things in life worth living and dying for. He invites us to follow His way. We know His way has been tried and know His way is sure.

Temptation offers us the opportunity, in the desert of life to choose what is good, noble and beautiful and to leave behind the world of instant gratification and opt instead for the less, not the more traveled road because that is the well trodden road that Jesus went down. This is the road that leads to the slow, painful death of ego, selfishness and self-indulgence which leads to the fullness of life and glory.

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