June 14, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 4:1-13.
Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.'” Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and: ‘With your hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'” When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
“If you are the Son of God.” Twice the devil began his testing in trying to get Jesus to question what God had recently announced, “This is my beloved Son.” Doubt is among the most insidious ways that the devil works his ways. So, he essentially said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, prove it!” He works his dark ways with me by planting doubts in my mind from time to time. Does God really exist? Prove it! Was Jesus really both human and divine? Prove it! Did he really perform wondrous miracles? Prove it! Was he really resurrected? Prove it! Does God really love me unconditionally and forgive me endlessly? Prove it! Am I really a child of God? Prove it to me beyond your own blind belief. There is no proof that I can persuade anyone of who poses these questions. I only know the answers in the depth of my soul because I have heard God tell me that I am His beloved son in the words of scripture.
Jesus didn’t counter the devil’s power with a display of his own power. To each of the devil’s temptations Jesus relies upon scripture — all from Deuteronomy — to both sustain himself and reject the lures of the devil. The first is from 8:3: “He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” To the temptation of worldly power, Jesus draws from 6:13: “The LORD, your God, shall you fear; him shall you serve, and by his name shall you swear.” The third temptation called to his mind 6:16: “You shall not put the LORD, your God, to the test, as you did at Massah.” Here and throughout the gospels Jesus draws his authority and his strength from the scriptures, the word of God, for man lives “by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.”
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary allows that this passage “contains such a mythological way of thinking , it is difficult to assess its historicity.” Obviously, the only way this experience could have been known was that Jesus related it to his disciples. He usually taught using stories and symbolism or metaphors. It could very well have been that he was explaining that the world will most persuasively attempt to divert them from their mission and obedience to the will of God in these three ways: satiation of bodily desires, use of power even for ostensibly right ends, and self-preservation or protection from harm and death — lust, greed, and fear. And the way to combat those temptations is to use the word of God as a shield. Isn’t it fascinating that the devil even uses the word of God to confuse and foil Jesus’ obedience to God? He will use every tool available to enlist me to his ranks, to compel me to sin or disobedience. He is clever and why it is so easy for me to rationalize and justify caving into to my own desires and will rather than obedience to God’s will for me. He will assail me when I am in my own desert, when no one is around to witness if I succumb. No one would be the wiser, he tells me. Except that God would know and I would know and nothing is worse than a troubled conscience.
Jesus also tells me that the devil is persistent. He may vacate himself for a while from my thoughts and from temptations, but he will be back. It is a continual struggle between my own desires and will and God’s gifts and will, a test of whether I will keep God’s commandments and adhere to Jesus’ teachings. Part of me wants to give in to the devil, to have extraordinary powers, to have every desire fulfilled. The troubling fact is that the more authority or the more money I have, the more temptations I face to use those for my self-interest rather than for God’s kingdom. Not many are able to withstand those temptations as we learn about on a daily basis it seems. That’s why this is such an important part of the gospels. Jesus chose to be the servant leader, the obedient Son of God. He was the Word of God enfleshed.