First Sunday in Lent
The Gifts of Temptation
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1 – 7
Matthew 4:1 – 7
by Cecilia Malm
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” – Matthew 4:7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ – Genesis 2:15 – 17
Have you ever heard of the “Marshmallow Test”? It was an experiment created by Walter Mischel in the 1960s to test a child’s ability to delay gratification. A marshmallow was placed in front of a child and she was told that she could eat the marshmallow immediately or, if she could wait 15 minutes, she would get two marshmallows. Research revealed that the children who were able to delay eating the marshmallow experienced higher academic achievement and success in later life.
The readings for today from Genesis and the gospel of Matthew speak to the themes of temptation and self-control. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent with the promise of powerful knowledge. In the gospel, the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness with promises of “all the kingdoms in the world.”
At the core of these scriptures is a decision, a critical moment when a choice must be made: a choice to take the tempting option that is right in front of us, or to tap into a deeper source of satisfaction. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that grace without cost is “cheap grace,” that people should be free to choose for themselves, but to “deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
Moments of temptation are a gift because they give us an opportunity to learn about our relationship with God. Our God is a forgiving God, and if we make the wrong choice that too can be a part of our spiritual development. God wants us to confront these choices because they help us learn about who we are – and whose we are.
What choices, large and small, are you faced with today? Where are your marshmallows appearing? Can you ask God for guidance and pay attention to when the costlier choice may be the one that leads you ultimately to the greater reward?
Prayer: God of Wisdom and Mercy, grant us self-control in mind, body, and spirit. Be with us when we are tempted to follow our own will and not yours. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Cecilia Malm is Director of Development for United Women in Faith.
Children’s art is from the 2023 Daily Prayer Guide.