Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our profession of faith. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Temptations are very much a part of every person’s life, but especially the life of a Christian. We are challenged each day to either follow the example of Christ, or to turn away from the Gospel, placing something other than Christ in the center of our life. Christians know that Christ should be the person who grounds everything we do, that He is the one who shows us the way to wholeness. We also know that the temptation to look for happiness and satisfaction in things other than Christ is a constant battle. I find it interesting that in Spanish the word for devil is diablo. It has its etymology from the Greek word diabolein, which means “to scatter or to throw apart”. Isn’t that exactly what happens when we give in to temptation? We lose our own sense of wholeness. We are no longer held together, but rather we are divided against ourselves, scattered into many directions. And once we have given in to temptation, there is often another that follows, that being the temptation of despair. I must admit that many times I give myself over to this temptation. It is the feeling that once having made a mistake, I am no longer worthy to be called a Christian, that in order to be part of the Christian community, I must have everything together in my life. It is the false belief that only through perfection can I authentically belong to the Church.
The truth, however, is very different. The truth is that we are a Church of sinners, hopefully ones who are continually fighting temptation, continually striving for perfection, but who nevertheless fail to always keep Christ as the center of our lives. The question then becomes not whether we sin or not, but what happens when we do? Do we remain in our sinfulness, or do we get up and try again, knowing that God will forgive us? Do we remember that we have a God who can sympathize with our failings because He Himself has been tempted in the same ways that we have?
The center of the good news is that we have a God who understands us because He was a human being Himself. Sometimes I run across people who say that Jesus, because He never sinned, is not really fully human. The truth of the matter is that it is precisely because He did not sin that He is the most human of us all. When I reflect upon it, I know that my sinfulness does not make me more human, but rather less. Sin destroys and distorts the gifts freely given to me by God. When we give into temptation we are not more human, we are more broken. So when we find ourselves broken and in need of God’s mercy, let us approach Him confident that we will receive mercy and forgiveness.