Political and Spiritual Slavery:
In 1994, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a book called “Turning Point for Europe?” In it he maintains that immediately following the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, after spending years in slavery, God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. It was no accident, he said, that liberation from slavery under Pharaoh and the keeping God’s law were to be closely linked to one another. But sadly, as we find out in the books of Exodus and Numbers, Israel proved to be unfaithful to God during their forty year journey in the desert. And in the centuries that followed, to the extent that they were unfaithful to the Lord’s commands – to that extent – were they dominated by foreign nations. It is a sobering reminder that political slavery is but the result of the spiritual slavery to sin.
In redeeming us from that slavery, therefore, Jesus Christ retraced the steps of his ancestors by spending forty days in the desert. St. Jerome said it wasn’t so much that Satan took the initiative to seek out Jesus; it is more accurate to say that Jesus went out into the desert to confront Satan. Indeed, before he would redeem the human race from sin, our Lord deemed it necessary to conquer the Architect of Sin by allowing himself to be tested through three progressive temptations.
The first temptation: Satan approached Jesus and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread." (Matt. 4:3) Here, Satan is tempting Jesus on the presumption that he is God. After all, only God can change stones into bread. Yet, if Jesus were to acquiesce to the temptation by converting stones into bread in order to eat them, worst case scenario, he would be breaking his fast with the possibility of sinning against God.
With the second temptation, Satan approached Jesus as if he were a mere holy man. For if a man could summon angels to his side he would undoubtedly be holy but he would not be God. After all, the Almighty would need no such assistance. With the second temptation the tempter said, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and 'with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" (Matt. 4:6) But in the absence of such angelic assistance, the cost of succumbing to Satan’s proposal is one of physical death. A pattern begins to emerge: As the devil downgrades the status Jesus from God to a holy man, the consequences of consenting to the second temptation- in contrast to the first temptation -becomes more perilous.
With the first temptation, Satan approaches Jesus as if he were God (this one, he got right). The second temptation our Lord is presumed to be a holy man, but only a man. And with the third temptation, Satan assumes the worst: “Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’” (Matt. 4:9) In assuming the worst, Satan’s approached Jesus as if he were a sinner; because only a sinner would worship the Devil. However, the cost of consenting to such a temptation, in the absence of repentance, would forfeit the salvation of one’s soul. And to be sure, there is no greater loss than to be forever banished from God’s presence.
Notice that the more sinful Satan believes you to be, the more gullible you are in his mind; gullible because consenting to his proposal would only spell disaster for the sinner. Indeed, sin darkens the mind. As Jesus said, whoever sins is a slave to sin. Hence, the darkness of sin leads to slavery. No one knows this better than the Satan himself.
Twentieth Century Parallels:
Interestingly, these three temptations and the design behind them, have a twentieth century parallels. With each temptation, Jesus countered with the words of God; specifically from the book of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy, as you might know, is a series of speeches given by Moses to the Hebrews at the end of their forty year journey in the desert. This took place just before they went into the Promised Land. Moses reviewed all that happened, both good and bad, and what would happen if they would obey or disobey God. The choice was clear. He said, “I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) Fidelity to God’s law would merit the former; infidelity would bring about the latter.
When we look at the twentieth century, as with previous centuries, we find that the choice between life or death is influenced by two inseparably related causes: spirituality and sexuality. That is to say, belief in God and attitudes about sex determine if one is fulfilled in life; if marriages last; if families happily stay together; if nations prosper; and most importantly, if souls are saved.
From the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution, Satan effectively undermined man’s belief in God. But if he could not completely eliminate belief in God, he would at least try to distort human sexuality! God and sex have one very important thing in common: the ability to create life. Sex furnishes the material while God infuses the soul. When these two principles of life are misunderstood or misused, a whole series of repercussions are set in motion.
To understand how Satan tempted Jesus in the desert is to understand how he tempted humanity during twentieth century. He understood that vice, as well as virtue, rarely exist in isolation. To instigate one sin or one vice with “seemingly little consequence” is to set off a sequence of other vices and sins which are of greater consequence. A chain reaction, if you will.
For instance, the use of contraception spiked considerably from 1930 to 1970. In a nutshell, the idea behind contraception is to have sex without the possibility of begetting life. In short, a couple could have sex without conceiving a child. Seemingly harmless, right? Taking it one step further, however, the Sexual Revolution gave us sex without love at the end of the 1960’s. Marriage was thought to be no longer necessary for sexual intimacy. With contraception, this was a lot easier But without the support of two married parents, when conception did occur, babies became more undesirable…more of a burden. This brings us to legalized abortion, which is life without love. The mother has a child in her womb but without the love to see him or her to full term.
Fidelity or Gullibility:
Let’s sum up the series of progressive temptations we find in twentieth century. Keep in mind that with each temptation the consequences get more ruinous:
Sex without life (contraception) leads to sex without love (fornication/adultery); this in turn, leads to life without love (abortion). The final product is the culture of death. Indeed, with each consent or nod of approval to contraception, extra-marital sex or abortion, the human mind is darkened and is made more gullible. In fact, Satan exploited this human weakness to great effect during the 20th century. However, his efforts fell short in the desert.
If anything, our Lord Jesus demonstrated – not only in the desert, but throughout 33 years on earth – that fidelity to God is the surest way of preserving our freedom and happiness. But he also reveals to us that the more we consent to sin, the more gullible we become. And the more gullible we become, the more inclined we are to believe the false promises of the devil. It is only a matter of time therefore, that slavery to sin ushers in political slavery.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.