Three ways to defeat the devil – Fr Joseph Edattu VC

This article is based on the Gospel of Mathew Chapter 6. There are three things that Jesus has given us to do to overcome the temptations of the devil. These methods are provided to us in this article.

The Book of Esther Chapter 14, verse 1 to 3, says that Esther was a queen selected by God and, she was the holy one of God, consecrated by God but in order to save the Israelites from the clutches of the wrong God and Kings, she went through an intense time of Fasting. Queen Esther filled with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord, removing her splendid apparel and putting the garment of distress and mourning. Instead of costly perfume, she covered her hair with ashes and dung. Every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. She prayed to the Lord God and said “Oh My God, you only are my King. Help me who is alone and have no helper but you”. This is what Queen Esther did, she covered her head with Ashes and Dung. The church is compassionate to give us only Ashes, not dung, on Ash Wednesday. The church has given us only a symbolic gesture, which is the Ash. When this practice was done by Esther, she was entering into an intense time of prayer and fasting.  The ashes are only a symbol.

During the Lenten season, at the start of the Lenten period, we have the sign on our forehead, signifying our entry into an intense period of prayer, penance and fasting. But we all limit our Lenten season with this ritual of Ash on the forehead. We come for holy mass on Ash Wednesday, receive the Ash and then wash it later when home. After this, there is no intensity of prayer, fasting and penance. We may try to make sacrifices, but return back to square one. We also read book of Daniel 9:3, “Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes”. Daniel was waiting for an answer from God, so he entered into an intense period of penance and supplication with sackcloth and ashes. Daniel completely avoided all foods to complement this intense period. Sackcloth is often used because this cloth is made of rough material, it will irritate and disturb the body. Since this is an irritant to the body, they wear such clothes on purpose as a mark of penance. It is a manner of humbling oneself entirely to God. Ashes is a sign to represent the state of the body after death, it is a symbol of mortality of the limited life we have on earth. This is depicted in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. This verse states that, we have been born from dust and to dust shall we return upon our death. Dust is a symbol of mortality, showing nothingness.

Book of Job 42:6, “Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes”. Job repented for the sins in dust and ashes, signifying that Ash is a sign of repentance for all the sins we have committed.

A secret from the bible, the Devil has got tactics; these tactics have not changed from the beginning to now. He has not updated or upgraded his tactics because of his laziness. Due to his laziness, he is using the same tactics with which he tempted Adam & Eve; the same tactics are used even today. He never updated nor upgraded because, even with the same tactics, we continue falling into sin. Though we know his tactic, we fall into the same sins. Let us understand the tactics, the areas, the devil uses to tempt and destroy us. We will also understand how to come out of it. Jesus has given us three areas as a powerful tool the tackle the tactics of the devil.

Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. “When the woman, Eve, saw that the fruit was good, she decided to eat it. This signifies the first type of temptation, which is the temptation of the flesh. This is the temptation where the devil will give you what is pleasing to the flesh. The second is delight to the eyes, signifying the beauty of possessing and getting things. The third is the pride which is reflected in line, “and that the tree was to be desire to make one wise”.

This is the three areas of temptation –

  • Temptation of the flesh
  • Delight to the Eyes
  • Pride

Luke in his Gospel states that, just as the old Adam in the book of Genesis was tempted, the new Adam of the New Testament, which is Jesus, was also tempted in the wilderness. This is reflected in the last chapter of Luke 3:38, and the immediate next chapter of Luke 4:1.

“The tempter came and said to him, if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). This reflects the first temptation which we identified earlier, that is Desire for Food, food for the body. This was the first temptation of Eve too. However, here, the devil is tempting Jesus with the same temptation, the desire for food. This temptation is to satisfy the desires of one’s body, as everything belongs to you. Satan tempted Eve in the same way, asking her to not worry of the consequences and that the garden belonged to her, enjoy the fruit and do not worry about God. Now, in the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus were also tempted in the same way. We see this in 1 John 2:16, “for all that is in the world – the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world”. St. John says that these things of the world are the temptations of the flesh that lead us to sin.

The second temptation in the Old Testament, was delight to the eyes. In a similar way, the devil attempted to tempt Jesus by taking him to the top of the mountain and showed him the splendor of the whole universe. By showing Jesus all of this, the devil attempted to tempt Jesus through the second temptation, which is the desire of the eyes. This was the second temptation for Eve and this was the same temptation that was also used on Jesus and that John has spoken about in his book.

The third temptation, refers to pride and the desire for pride. This was also the same temptation used on Jesus, where the Devil asked Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and, witness the angels of the Lord coming to his aid, because he is the Son of God. The people would have witnessed this and, would be made aware of the power of Jesus and Glorify him. The devil attempted to tempt Jesus through the desire for pride. Similarly, the same temptation was used on Eve, to pride on her capacity for wisdom and knowledge. This is because the devil had told Eve that upon eating the fruit, she will become like God. Therefore, Eve had the pride and desire to be one like God. The same temptation is spoken about by St. John in his book, where he mentions of the pride of riches. Pride in everything, in power, in riches.

These are the three areas the devil uses to attack every child of God, even today. In the gospel of the day, Jesus is giving us ways to defeat the devil. Three areas are given to defeat the devil. Through this reading, Jesus anticipates each one of us to use these tactics as weapons against the devil, so that we may attack the three temptations of the devil.

 The first, to attack the temptation of the desire of the flesh, Jesus has given us fasting. Fasting in the body. Getting rid of some bad habits is not enough. We have to do fasting in order to overcome the attacks of the devil. We need sack-clothes, we need some penance in our body, we need to get rid of something that makes us happy. For example, those addicted to internet & mobile, can avoid this. Those addicted to movies, can avoid watching movies. Those addicted to food and certain food items, can get rid of it. Getting rid of bad habits that is harmful to our body, that is not permitted, to which we are addicted, is a necessity to be rid of our body. However, we are referring to addictions that we do, which is permitted, but we are sacrificing it. Therefore, this is the first method Jesus has given us to attack the first temptation of the devil – Desire of Food, Desire of the flesh, Desire of the body; which is fasting.

The second temptation is Delight of the eyes; which means to possess everything. The devil told Jesus to see all the splendor of the universe, with the attempt to tempt him to possess all these. This is exactly what St. John refers to in the second temptation, which is desires to possess. For example, when we see something good, we desire to possess it. When we see someone beautiful or handsome, we desire to possess that person. This is called the desire of the eyes. The weapon given to us by Jesus to defeat this second temptation is Alms Giving. When you avoid eating a meal or avoid buying something you desire for the flesh, you profit financially. This profit is to be shared with others, if possible, more of what we have should be given to others. We should start giving to the poor people, this is compulsory for all of us. There are so many of our family members who are in need of some help; so many of our friends maybe in moments of struggle. We should help them in every way possible. We may think to ourselves that, we do not have jobs. However, even in our nothingness we should be able to give something to those in need. Alms giving is the second weapon God has given us to defeat the second temptation of the devil.

The third temptation is Pride. Eve wanted to be like God, while Jesus was tempted to jump and everyone will give him honor. However, Jesus did not want to do these things because he is already God. Jesus knew it and therefore, did not fall into this wrong temptations. Today, we also have this temptation to become a small God. In our families, we may want everyone to honor, respect and serve us. The same attitude may be reflected in our offices, outside. Where ever we go, we desire comfort and want everyone to exult and praise. This is because we have a secret desire in us to become a small God. The easiest method and weapon Jesus has given us to attack the devil in this temptation is prayer. When you kneel down and look at Heaven, which is a clear sign, knowing your nothingness. This is a sign, knowing that you have a God above you. If we do not pray, we suddenly think that we are Gods. We want everyone to bow down, beg to us, serve and humble us; all because we do not have prayer in our lives. The moment we start a prayerful life, we will be humbled. That is why Jesus said in Gospel of Mathew chapter 6:2, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward”. This means that it is our duty to give alms, however, do not make it known to anyone or anything. For example, do not keep a photo of your alms, neither post it on social media. We should never get any reward from here on earth for our alms giving. If we get a reward here on earth, we will not get any reward from Heaven. This is because, for one action there will be only one reward, not two rewards. If we get our reward here, we will not get it in Heaven. This is why the Bible asks us to not blow our trumpets when we give alms. Furthermore, verse 3 of the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6 states that, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. The left and right hand is controlled by our brain. When we do something with our right hand, this goes to our brain and comes to our left hand. For example, if we have done some good deeds in the past, we should not keep a track of it every time. If we keep a list of good deeds we have done in the past, our right hand will know what the left hand has done. However, we are supposed to forget what we have done. We should not keep a track of all the good things we have done. We should let God count and ignore it. If we have helped somebody, don’t think of it and just write it off from your books and memory.  In case, if someone asks us in the future of our good deeds that we have done, we should not have any memory or record of it. Therefore, what my right hand did, the left hand will not know.

One day a husband and wife started fighting with each other. The wife gave the husband a big list of things that she had done for the husband saying, “Do you know how hard I have worked for you, prepare the food, the coffee, clean the whole house and the courtyard, clean your clothes, iron your clothes”. She kept giving a big list of all the things that she has done for her husband. The husband kept silent as he was trying to recollect the good things he had done for her. After trying to recollect for almost 5 to 10 minutes, the husband could not remember anything because he did not do anything good for her. However, the only good he would do is finish all the food, whatever has been prepared by the wife. Therefore, the husband knew he was going to be defeated because he had nothing good that he could speak about. Suddenly, he said, “You are keeping track of all the good things you are doing. But I do not keep any track and just give it up. I do not keep it in mind”. In this example, both the husband and the wife are wrong. She keeps a list of all good things, while he has no good things to keep because he never did anything good. Therefore, when you do almsgiving, just keep it in front of God, it is only for God and let all praise and Glory be only to him.

Therefore, God has given us three ways to defeat the devil –

  • Fasting
  • Alms Giving
  • Prayer

If we use these three methods, we can easily defeat the devil and come out of all the problems. When we pray, do not be like Hypocrites who show that they are prayerful as said in Gospel of Matthew 6:5, “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others”. The gospel does not ask us to avoid praying in public places. However, our prayer has to be with a spiritual connection with God. Any prayer that we do, it should not be done just to show. For example, do not go for Sunday mass just to make your husband, wife or parish priest happy. There are many people who make prayers this way to fulfill other’s happiness or to follow the rules and regulations; not for themselves. Prayer should be done as a spiritual connection and not to please or showcase to others. This has to be done at every time we pray.

In Mathew 6:16, “Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.” Whenever we fast, we should do it only for God and to make God know.

These three things will help us to overcome the devil and its temptations. Let us start with some sort of fasting. Increase our time towards prayer, let us start giving something to the poor.

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