The Gospel of the Day – 2016.02.14 (Sunday)
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone.’
Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then he led him to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said to him ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says:
He will put his angels in charge of you
to guard you,
They will hold you up on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
But Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time. (NJB)
The Real Enemy is Within
We should all have clarity of mind when we begin to read this passage.
Jesus may have gone into the desert for a period of meditation in preparation for the mission he was about to undertake. Whether that part of this narrative is true or not is unimportant. The narrative itself is a myth.
Jesus was not tempted by the devil. How do I know this? Because there is no devil.
God did not create a universe a war with its creator. God is not a king, God does not have armies, there are no legions of the damned.
The antagonist in this story is Jesus’ own self, it is the same antagonist we all face when we struggle to know and do the right thing in the face of the temptation to do the wrong thing. We are our own enemy.
The voice of temptation does not come from without. It comes from within.
In the narrative, Jesus set out to fast. His first temptation was to break the fast, it was hunger, not the devil which tempted him.
The second temptation was the temptation to transform the movement he had begun into a political movement, which would mean taking up arms against the Romans, against his own people, and against the world. Jesus knew in his hear that this was not the way of heaven, he also knew it was a real possibility, and that his closest followers would have gladly taken up arms for him. The temptation was for power, it came from his own doubts, and he rejected it.
The third temptation was of a more esoteric nature. It was the temptation to believe the things that people were saying about him, to believe that he was a divine being, to believe that he had special powers, to believe that the mission he was on was given to him by God, and that it therefore could not be stopped, even if Jesus were to throw himself off of a high wall.
The temptation was to vanity, and Jesus rejected it.
In the temptation narrative Jesus demonstrates self-control guided by wisdom, and humility. He rejects vanity, he rejects political power, and he rejects hunger (rather he chooses to carry through with his resolve).
In each case the enemy of temptation was not a supernatural being, but instead it was the ordinary voice of hunger, desire for power, and vanity that each of face every day in our way.
1st Sunday of Lent