Facing temptation is the plight of mankind. Jesus is a real person, and He faced temptations too. The biggest temptation for mankind is that he is not willing to be a man but wants to be a God, becoming his own master. He puts himself, instead of God, in the center of all things. Instead of putting his faith in God, he puts it in himself and in worldly matters.

Jesus was tempted by the devil just before He began to preach. When He repelled those three temptations, Jesus announced to us the conviction of His preaching.

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4)

We need food for our bodies. But a man exists as a man because of his spiritual life, which also needs to be nourished in order for him to continue pursuing truth and goodness.

The Word of God is revealed to us in various ways. When God created us in His image, He expressed His will to us. This expression of God’s will is our consciousness; conscience is the voice of God.

Is this voice enough? It should be enough. However, man has been muddled since the beginning. When our first parents ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because they wanted to know good and evil, they indeed reversed them.

The passages from Deuteronomy (26:4–10) and the Letter to the Romans (10:8–13) describe the dire situation in detail. Who can rescue us from it? The Word of God incarnated and became man. He uses the mouth and heart of a man to cry, “Abba! Father!”

Bread is necessary for us, but we do not need miracles to solve the problem of hunger. Money is useful, but those who are poor in spirit are more blessed. The most important thing is to rely on God with a childlike heart. People with such a heart would forget about themselves and dedicate their lives to serving their poor and disadvantaged brothers and sisters.

“The Lord, your God, shall you worship” (Matt. 4:7)

Our bodies can stand, sit, lie, and kneel. When you kneel, your head is certainly at a lower position than when you are sitting and standing. When you bow your head while kneeling, it seems as if you are going to bury yourself, and that is to admit that you are nothing.

People express their respect for deities by kneeling and prostrating themselves. The emperor is the son of heaven, and therefore, we should kneel and prostrate ourselves before him. Chinese people tend to have very soft knees, and kneeling does not seem to be a big deal in Chinese culture.

The devil said, “All these I shall give to you, if you . . . worship me” (Matt. 4:9). How incredible this temptation is! Does the devil not know the identity of Jesus? This is not only a temptation but an insult! But we must remember that Jesus is a natural man and was tempted because of us.

Generation after generation, many lofty people, including religious people and evangelists, have faced similar temptations. Is it not more effective to use our “connections” and power to push our ideals forward? Is it bringing peace to the world when the relationship between the Church and the state is good?

“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Matt. 4:7)

To test God is to ask: Must I obey Him, or shall I ask Him to do what I would like Him to do for me?

It seems easy for the great saints to perform miracles, and it appears that God has no way to turn down their requests. This is because they first accepted wholeheartedly the holy will of God and the mission He entrusted to them. God is willing to do miracles because He is sure that those miracles are beneficial to His plan. But when we test God, we run after our own (or even the Church’s) vanity. How can God allow that for us?

God is mighty. He loves us and takes care of us—His children. When we acknowledge Him as God and Father, we do not have to fear, no matter how fragile we are before others. “Cry out to the Lord; I shall not blush for shame.”


This article on Cardinal Zen on Temptation is adapted from the book Cardinal Zen’s Lenten Reflections by Cardinal Joseph Zen which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on a reflection from “Cardinal Zen’s Lenten Reflections” by Cardinal Joseph Zen: cover used with permission; Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

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