Sunday, February 21, 2010
The Temptation, Kings, Nuns and Priests
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is the temptation of Christ in the desert according to Luke.
Christ is tempted in three ways: through his physical desires (hunger for food), through his eyes (being shown all the glory of the kingdoms of the world), and through the temptation to pride (to stage a magnificent stunt that would win him fame throughout the nation).
This threefold temptation of Christ corresponds to St. John’s warning about the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” in 1 John 2:15. This threefold categorization has been known in the Church as the “threefold concupiscence,” the unholy Trinity of temptation.
Eve was tempted in the same way. She saw that the fruit was “good for food, pleasing to the eye, and to be desired to make one wise.” “Good for food” is lust of the flesh. “Pleasing to the eye” is lust of the eye. “Desired to make one wise” is a temptation to pride—Eve wants to be wise like God.
Thousands of years later, the king of Israel was commanded by Moses to restrain himself from the temptations of the threefold concupiscence. Deut 17:16-17 forbids the Israelite king from multiplying horses (military might), women (sensual pleasure), and gold/silver (greed/avarice) for himself. These three items correspond to lust of the flesh (women), lust of the eyes (gold), and pride (self-aggrandizing military build-up).
First Kings 10–11 describe how, in his latter years, Solomon, the first Son of David to sit on his father’s throne and a kind of “New Adam” figure in the biblical story line, egregiously fell prey to the threefold concupiscence by multiplying for himself everything Deuteronomy 17 forbids.
In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus, the New Adam, overcoming the threefold concupiscence, and so undoing the sin of Eve, and overcoming the failings of the first Son of David, Solomon. “One greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31).
All Christians share in Christ’s royal anointing and therefore must take steps to overcome lust, avarice, and pride. In particular, in the Catholic tradition, those who enter the religious life take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are radicalized ways to mortify the threefold concupiscence: lust of the flesh (chastity), lust of the eyes (poverty), and pride (obedience). We should view these “evangelical counsels” as means toward a profound conformity to Christ and his power to overcome temptation. Even Catholic diocesan clergy, who do not take formal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, nonetheless de facto commit themselves to this lifestyle. It seems fitting that they should, since they are in a sense the viceroys of the New Israel (Gal 6:16), and therefore should commit themselves more radically to the self-denials required of anyone who would rule over the people of God (Deut 17:16-17).