The Lure

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First Sunday of Lent


I like fish but I don’t fish. I get my fish from the deli at the grocery store. I don’t mind that someone else caught the fish for me, probably using a large net, or even raising it in a fish farm. I just prefer that I wasn’t dangling some squirmy flashy object in front of a creature I want for my next meal in the hope it can be fooled into thinking it was getting a bite to eat! When you’re hungry, you’re in a very vulnerable place. People have been known to sell their birthright for a bowl of stew[1]. That’s also a very good reason we are told not to go food shopping on an empty stomach. Everything will look so tasty and appetizing, it’s hard to walk away. And unfortunately for us, those who want to sell us stuff when we are hungry know that, too, and it doesn’t bother them to exploit it.

Human nature is highly predictable. We follow foreseeable patterns of behavior. Our natural appetites have gone significantly unchanged for as long as we have been around. Consumer goods market research has proven we like our snacks salty and sweet, rich and creamy, chewy and crunchy. We like our drinks fizzy and refreshingly clean, efficient in delivering a quick buzz, low calorie and with a hint of fruit. We like our gadgets sleek and slim, eye-catching and expensive, multifunctional and intuitive. We like our entertainment ground-breaking and cutting-edge, but down-to-earth and familiar, volume loud and fast-paced with excitement, at times laden with profound meaning and insight, at times pretentious and devoid of any redeeming value. But what might escape us sometimes is that we are often willing to surrender a much bigger prize in the process of getting our hands on some momentary high. We neglect to notice the hook behind the lure. An obvious reason fish get caught on the hook is that they would never suspect something squirmy and flashy and pleasing to the eye could cost them their life. It was just going to be a snack, no more. And snacks are welcome anytime.

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A lure is what catches our eye. It doesn’t even have to do a thing. It just sits there looking all innocent and pretty, throwing us a smile, a side glance, a little shimmy with the shoulders. And then the voices start talking inside our heads. Did you see that? That’s nice. That’s interesting. That’s cute. Was that meant for me? On purpose? Aww, how charming. I suppose it’s okay to smile back. Let’s go over and say hello. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going over and saying hello. It’s called being polite. It will only take a few seconds. Smile and say hello. Smile and say hello. Hi! How are you? Yeah, I like the way you smiled at me from across the room. So I thought I’d come over and say hello. You don’t mind? Of course not. You didn’t come with anyone, did you? Neither did I. So, have we met before? I was thinking you were at that other party I was at last week. But maybe not. You want to go for a walk? Oh, nowhere in particular. We can talk about stuff, stuff you like, stuff I like, just stuff. I was going back home to watch some videos. You want to come? We could watch videos together. Maybe you could stay a little longer. … I don’t know what you were thinking, but I was describing the conversation in my head when I see Häagen-Dazs ice cream at the grocery store.

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The dangerous thing with temptation is that we don’t often think past the fleeting moment when the lovely object of our desire comes into our possession. Our minds somehow stall, and we fall headlong into an illusion of eternal bliss. But time and again, we wake up with a pounding headache, trashed and disoriented, fuzzy of mind and queasy of gut, with only a faint recollection of how we got there. Then like Adam and Eve, we realize that we had done something we shouldn’t have. Hopefully unlike them, we still have all our clothes on. But the guilt and shame are familiar. And over time, we know exactly how and when it all begins, because it’s usually the same every single time. And we tell ourselves we can’t help it. The first time, not knowing any better may be a legitimate excuse. But we’re supposed to be wiser the second time.

So temptation is challenging because we know we can’t control it. In and of itself temptation is neither right nor wrong. It’s simply an invitation to what we tell ourselves is probably something healthy, exciting, and wonderful. If temptation appeared as a scary toothless devil with horns, smoke pouring out its nostrils, a pointy tail, and a pitchfork, we wouldn’t think twice about packing up and moving to another state. But temptation is no dummy. It knows us well. It knows what we like to see, and what we like to hear. It will offer us a comforting image meant to draw us closer. It will be delicious and attractive and inviting and alluring, because we are partial to delicious and attractive and inviting and alluring. And once we have latched on to that lure, most of the hard work is done. Temptation just has to reel us in. We may not have noticed the hooks digging deep into our hearts, but they’re there. At that very moment, our minds are clouded over, and locked helplessly on the prize we thought we had won.

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So a major challenge with temptation is that it spends more time and energy planning to bring about our moral failure than we are willing to spend to stop it. We don’t really know how much time and energy temptation spends. We just know that we spend hardly any time or energy to fight it. It’s like we go into battle everyday completely oblivious that the enemy knows everything about us. It knows all our weakness, exactly where we are, who we’re with, and the time of day we are most susceptible to failure. It prepares well in advance how many opportunities it will strike in any given period. And it most surely achieves its objectives exactly as planned. We on the other hand are often without a clue. We don’t even act like we’re aware of any danger along the path. Okay, we stumbled into a pothole ten minutes into our walk yesterday. The pothole’s probably still there, and we’re going down the same exact path again today. But after yesterday’s fall, it’s a wonder we’re still taking no precautions. And we repeat yesterday’s spectacular mishap as though we didn’t even see it coming.

Scripture scholars have analyzed and dissected today’s readings enough times to remind us that temptation is clever and cunning and capable of quoting God’s Word. Evil will appeal to our physical hungers, our pride, and our desire for power and wealth. But we knew all this going in, that temptation knows us well, and works even harder to see us fail. So we should take the necessary time and energy to plan our course of action. Asking God for grace and strength is not enough. We need to get personally involved in winning the battle. Old responses that didn’t work before will probably not work ever. And stay away from shiny, delicious, and expensive looking lures. There’s likely a hook or two behind them pretty things. It’s never just a snack.

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Rolo B Castillo © 2017


[1] Genesis 25: 27ff.