The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
In the early years of my spiritual journey, I diligently followed Catholic catechism lessons because that’s what my teachers, the Sisters, expected. In sixth grade, I told Sister Marie that I wanted to be a priest. Suddenly I felt the attention of all the teachers and parish priests. Going to daily mass gave me more recognition and privilege. I remember an immediate benefit. During church, I was casting hand shadows on the squeaky wood floor when Sister, in her head-to-toe white habit with black veil, leaned over me. Her pencil-sharp fingers reached past my nose and poked the guy beside me, “Fold your hands!”
My need for the approval of sisters and priests, over time, became internalized. During childhood and adolescence, religious practices such as daily mass, weekly confession, daily rosary, and guided meditations on the gospels became nothing more than my means of maintaining their approval. My motivation to be recognized and appreciated by others and to stay consistent with my own self-image was my weakness. That “needing approval” motivation made me vulnerable later when I left the college seminary to go to a state university. Eventually, it led me into a wilderness of disillusionment in my early adult years—painful, depressing years far from God as I sought approval from everywhere but God.
In today’s scripture, Jesus is tempted. He dismisses Satan’s pitch. None of Jesus’ past physical, emotional, or spiritual lifestyle choices had weakened him. His choice was to be obedient to his Father. He was prepared before he was led into the wilderness to be tempted. Imagine if you faced 40 days of fasting, of being socially isolated, and then being coaxed, prodded, and goaded, by the father of lies, into doing something you shouldn’t. What would you do?
How did Jesus resist temptation? Satan found nothing that could waylay Jesus because His desires were laser-focused on the cross. He had no need for approval or power or having it his own way.
What need for approval or other off-the-target motivators do you have that lead you away from God? Satan offered Christ the world. But Jesus was not weak nor susceptible because his mind and body were focused on his purpose, that is, to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
During Bible study, prayer, meditation, group life and spiritual practices, be mindful of your own personal desires and goals in light of our human desire for approval. Align your daily personal goals with God’s purpose for you, so that temptations are seen as obstacles to your purpose of pleasing God. “Set your minds on the things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2), as Jesus did in the wilderness.