When I was in high school, back in Nigeria, we read T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral.” Eliot presented Archbishop Thomas Becket as who wanted martyrdom for the sake of becoming immortal and not forgotten. The tempter asks: what can compare with the glory of saints and dwelling in the glory of God? The tempter entices him to seek the way of martyrdom, to make himself the lowest on earth so that he could be among the highest in heaven. Archbishop Becket came to the realization of the subtlety of the temptation- that if he became a martyr to satisfy his own personal desire, he would not be a true martyr. In the literary work, Eliot writes, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
I think it is very important to study and understand Satan’s schemes. The whole dynamic in the story above, is equally contained in the gospel of today according to Luke. Just look at the temptation of Jesus. The objects of temptation – bread, scriptures, and kingdoms in their magnificence. They are all good and beautiful things. Temptations are always about “good” things. Most people’s ethical choices are not always between good and evil, but between different shades of good. This is where temptation becomes tricky.
After praying and reflecting over this episode on temptation, I discovered how important it is to talk about the relationship between our actions and our motives. Temptation is not just about obeying rules- doing this or that. It is about finding out what our real motives are whenever we want to act. It is about why we do what we do, not just about what we do. It involves understanding the deeper reasons and tensions, the real forces and powers that move us to behave in certain ways. One student told me that the real reason she gave up cake for lent was to lose weight, not to get closer to God. Another person told me that he gave up chocolate and alcohol, so that other people would admire him as someone spiritual.
The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “had to be made like his brethren in every respect” and that “because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18). So, if you really want Jesus to be your guide, doing the right thing for the wrong reason becomes wrong. Sometimes, too, we may find ourselves or some people doing something considered unacceptable for right reasons. Imagine a mother or father stealing to feed a starving child. Is it wrong or right? Or when someone comes into the United States illegally in order to save their children, or escape poverty or war. Is that wrong? So, to deal with temptation, we really need to go deeper into our minds and find out why we do what we do, and find out the underlying motives and inner workings of our hearts.
One of Satan’s favorite schemes is getting us to use legitimate things in an illegitimate way. We all need money, but Satan will tempt you to cheat on your taxes, short-change your customers, and cut corners on the job. We have all been created with the need for companionship and sexual fulfilment. But the devil will tempt you to fulfil those needs by having an affair or trapping you into online pornography. So, all he does is to confuse our values so that good appears to be evil, and evil appears to be good.
There is one way to unmask him-doing what Jesus did during his own temptation. That is to fill your mind with the Word of God. Jesus countered him with Scriptural passages. You have to walk closely with Jesus through daily study of the Scriptures and consistent prayer life. That is how you guide your mind, your mouth and your actions.