In the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent (Luke 4:1-13), we hear once again of Jesus being tempted in the desert by the devil. In much the same way, each of us is tempted on a daily basis to choose the ways of the world over the ways of God.
What are the ways of the world? Primarily, “worldly wisdom” teaches that health and wealth, success, and influence (or power) are the ultimate values in life. We want to be disease- and injury-free, prosperous, triumphant, and in control of not only our own destinies, but often those of other people and events.
It is neither wrong nor evil to have or experience such things. What really matters is to what extent these gifts are valued by us, how they’re obtained, and how they are put to use. Each of these things, depending on our interior motivations and attachments, can be either the means of honoring God or foolishly forsaking him by making them idols.
The truly wise one, according to our Christian faith, is the one who recognizes that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). This is not a cowering, servile fear. It is grateful recognition of God as the Giver of all good gifts, and us as his stewards and ambassadors who respond in love to his divine goodness.
And choosing the wisdom of God is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but an ongoing struggle to discern and act rightly. As Barbara Bowe points out in her book Biblical Foundations of Spirituality, “In the daily rhythms of life each one must choose between the ways of the wise and the ways of the foolish. In choosing the wise path, we choose the path of life.”
These choices are laid out in front of us every day in myriad ways—yes, even in the monastery! Each day, the monk—as with people in all walks of life—must make constant choices as to whether to serve oneself or serve others out of love for Christ.
Strengthened by that love, let us answer the temptation to act according to the world’s ways with the same words Jesus spoke to combat the Evil One: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”