In the Jewish tradition, there are three ways in which we are all tempted to sin: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We see this understanding reflected in 1 John 2:16. The lust of the flesh represents the desires of our appetites (ie: gluttony and sexual pleasure). The lust of the eyes represents our desire for all we want (ie: greed and envy). The pride of life is our disordered desire to be greater than we are (ie: pride and vainglory). These are the temptations the world throws at all of us.
Where do we first encounter this in human history? In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were tempted by the Devil to disobey God. He tempted Eve with the promise that she would be like God if she ate of the fruit. When Eve considered her actions, Genesis 3:6 records that she “saw that the tree was good for food (Lust of the Flesh), and a delight to the eyes (Lust of the Eyes), and that the tree was desirable to make one wise (Pride of Life)…”. In other words, from a Jewish perspective, they were tempted in every way…and the Bible records their joint failure as Adam was with her.
Our first parents failed so Christ came to restore in obedience what had been lost in disobedience.
In preparation for His earthly ministry, Our Lord spent 40 days in the desert. Luke 4 tells us He was led there by the Spirit and was tempted by the Devil. Jesus fasted for that whole period. When the Bible says He was hungry at the end of this time, note that he wasn’t just ready for a meal. There comes a time without food where the body begins to consume what it can of itself. After 40 days, His Body was ravenous. Enter the Devil.
Satan’s first temptation is for Christ to turn rocks into bread. Here, he is playing on the Lust of the Flesh…and he knows Jesus is VERY hungry. Our Lord answered this temptation with the truth that man lives not by bread alone but by the Word of God.
In the second temptation, the Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and offered Him all of the kingdoms of the world in return for Christ’s worship. This temptation is challenging Jesus through the Lust of the Eyes as Christ came to call all people to Himself–but definitely not this way. In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see that Jesus doesn’t want to die. His only desire is to do the Will of His Father in Heaven. God alone deserves our worship… even if we see before us the very goal we think we were made to do.
In the third temptation, Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and told to throw Himself down since the angels will rescue Him from harm. This is the temptation of the Pride of Life by tempting Jesus to reveal His Glory to all before His hour had come. Consider that what the Devil promised here is true… the angels will rescue Him. Jesus knows, though, that His Father plans to raise Him up in sacrifice, not in personal glory. Though we trust that God will protect us, that doesn’t mean we should test His resolve.
Luke 4:13 tells us that “all temptation” was ended after the third one. From our limited perspective, we are inclined to point out all of the other ways we feel tempted in life. Again, Christ suffered temptation in all ways possible, though not in every variation of the same temptations… and He succeeded where Adam and Eve failed.
Where Our Lord led, we are to follow. We will be tempted in life and He has given us tools to help us on our journey. What can we do to control temptation and the occasions of sin? We can focus our efforts on the opposite of the temptations mentioned here. In fact, outside of the two Great Commandments to love God and our neighbor, Jesus told us to do three things: fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. It is so important that He taught us how to do all three in Matt 6:1-18 where He said, “When you fast… give alms… pray…”. He didn’t say, “If you fast.” This is our life in the Church, especially during this time of Lent.
When we focus on self-denial in fasting and abstinence, we can’t be focused on the Lust of the Flesh… seeking to satisfy these same desires.
When we focus on alms-giving, it would be hard to also focus on thoughts of greed and envy in the Lust of the Eyes.
When we turn our hearts to God in humble prayer, we acknowledge our lowliness and leave behind the Pride of Life.
So, in following Christ, listen to the Church, His Bride, as She exhorts us to lives of fasting, alms-giving and prayer. She is leading us to deeper faith and closer communion with Her Bridegroom through self-denial, supplication and sacrifice.