Lent is a time to come to mind the paschal mystery; the passion, death and resurrection of Our Savior Jesus Christ. It is the time for atonement, doing penance, alms giving, and self-denial and to take stock of ourselves. Last Wednesday, Christian communities observed Ash Wednesday which ushers in the beginning of the approximately six weeks of Lent culminating in the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent begins by telling us about the three temptations of Jesus. The scripture goes that after 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert in preparation for his coming ministry, Jesus was led by the spirit to be tempted. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the tempter tries to distract Christ from the task assigned to Him by the Father by distorting the task that claim to be its true fulfillment. The first is to turn stones into bread (4:3); the second to jump off the Temple pinnacle (4:6); and third, to worship Satan (4:9). These illustrate three kinds of control: material, spiritual and civil. They are based on the depraved and distorted notion that material goods will bring satisfaction and contentment; that spiritual powers derived from the devil will effect salvation; and finally that great political power will bring glory and honor. At the heart of all three temptations is the idea that God is inconsequential and unnecessary because all these three resources are far more urgent matters that fill our lives, thus making God superfluous. These temptations are treated as archetypes of the temptations we experience daily: the temptation to amass through our own efforts material possessions, spiritual power and political power and social influence for their own sake, without the beneficence of God from whom everything and everyone emanates.
The first temptation is about material goods. Much of what ails our present day is the single-minded focus on acquiring material wealth and carnal pleasures. Because of the over emphasis on materialism respect for oneself and others, compassion, honesty, dignity and honor give way to greed, dishonesty, conceit and pride, self-centeredness and indifference toward the suffering of others. Much of human misery and failings such as corruption, divorce and abortion can ultimately be traced to man’s inordinate and excessive love for material wealth and physical gratification.
In the second temptation, the tempter, as he told Jesus, tempts us into believing that we can test and challenge God into yielding to our own will, threatening him that we will resort to our own flawed devices should he fail us. Oftentimes, we seek solutions elsewhere rather that trusting in God’s providence.
Every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and a position of authority, power and glory, and are often ready and willing to succumb to these desires even through sinful ways. But Jesus teaches us how to conquer these temptations by strengthening himself through prayer, penance and utter dependence on the will of God the Father.
The third temptation, the greatest of the three, is the arrogance of power. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the adage goes. We know how people react to power and authority. A powerful individual, devoid of moral compass, will most certainly abuse his authority. Power is a corrosive potion to those who are not guided by the spirit of benevolence, humility and the sincere desire to serve.
Today, yielding to this greatest temptation is illustrated by the manner the war against illegal drugs is being conducted including the attempt to reimpose the death penalty. Because there is little faith in God’s brand of justice, our leaders, with the approval many, mislead to believe that the only recourse is to seek retribution by exterminating the criminals and drug addicts. Retribution, violence, and vengeance have taken precedence over rehabilitation, mercy, compassion and non-violence.
EJKs and the death penalty are based on the mistaken belief that they solve the problem of drug addiction and criminality. Yet, time and again, it has been proven that this is not the way to go. Violence only breeds violence, thus compounding human misery. If we were to reinstate the death penalty and aggravate the current state of murderous violence, man is to arrogate unto himself the power to determine who is to live or to die. Thus, this deprives God, the Lord of Justice, the authority to take the life of his own creature. With death as the main solution, there is no forgiveness; there is no rehabilitation; there is no second chance; what remains is the permanent ending of life.
Like many others, I, Tony La Viña—teacher and lawyer, Mindanawon—declare that I will oppose the reimposition of the death penalty by our Philippine Congress and that I will continue to fight extrajudicial killings of any kind and violations of human rights in any form, and that I offer these works for justice as my main act of charity, as my alay kapwa (offering to neighbor), this Lent and beyond.