First Sunday of Lent (A)
March 9, 2015

Matthew today tells us of the three temptations of Christ. It sure makes one think of a smorgasbord. Jesus was given three choices, and all three have to do with something that touched him to the core. Who doesn’t want food after fasting so long? Who does not want to be served and protected by minions who would surely come to your rescue at all cost? Who among us would not want a promotion beyond imagination and be able to control all nations and kingdoms?

The offers all sound - pardon the pun – very tempting indeed. Food is good anytime, all the time, especially that time when you have foregone it for so long. Being catered to and protected by others is always good, for anyone, for everyone. And being on the saddle is always better than being at the beck and call of someone else.

Wait! These are all ephemeral goods. Food is good, yes, but it is not the only good. Honor and prestige are both good, but there are other higher goods. Power and control are good to have but they are not always good for anyone, all the time, everytime.

The Bible says “the serpent is the most cunning of all the animals.” It is so cunning he made Eve fall for his redefined and reframed “good.” The question wa subtly misleading. It was at once a half truth and a half lie. It was a typical temptation that is something evil masquerading as truth.

The ending of the story is clear. The fall of the woman became the fall of the man. Misery loves company, and everyone’s downfall was blamed on somebody other than oneself: “It was the woman.” “It was the serpent.” The blaming game is on! And it still goes on till today.

Temptations still abound in our times. We are never satisfied with what we have. Isn’t this the reason why we need to be changing gadgets every few months? Things are pretty much the same during the times of Adam and Eve as now, except for the fact that the devil has taken on a multiplicity of guises: mainstream media, commercial advertisements in the quadrimedia, political dynastic families, government per se, manipulative televangelists, big businesses, narcissistic religious leaders, etc. The list is legion, like what the gospels say.

Even the Lord was tempted, right in the midst of his good deed. The tempter offered something “better.” After all, as they say, the other man’s grass is always greener.

And the choices were figuratively and literally out of this world! Who could refuse something better, bigger and more lucrative?

Today, the example of the Lord in the face of highly attractive offers shows us that the better does not necessarily always leads to what is good ultimately for us. Freedom is not simply the power to choose between options. It also means the power to choose the good on the long haul, not on the short run. It means the power to discern and then decide on what will redound to one’s – and others’ ultimate good.

St. John Bosco often said in his lifetime that “l’ottimo nemico del bene,” – the best is the enemy of the good. In Tagalog homespun wisdom, we refer to someone who is always on the lookout for a better deal as someone who is guilty of “sa paghahanap ng kagitna, sansalop ang nawala.” Roughly translated, it means when one looks for the best conditions, the best deal, and the most lucrative venture while ignoring what good one already has, one ends up getting the shorter end of the stick.

The Lord weighed all his options. Hungry, he was tempted to make food out of stones. Alone and powerless, he was tempted, too, to make his minions prove their loyalty to him. Lonely out in the desert, and wielding no influence over anyone, he was tempted to lord it everybody else, all in exchange for a seemingly harmless act of  prostrating before the devil.

Not all that glitters is gold. Not all that appears good would lead to real, total, honest-to-goodness good. One needs to do more than choose. One needs to discern, to weigh things over from the moral viewpoint, and from the vantage view of faith.

Good, better, or best? It does not matter. When one does what God wants, everything is simply good. And one no longer needs to look for something better. One has done the best option available.