February 10, 2008


The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.

Mt. 4: 10

Our Lord’s temptations in the wilderness recapitulate the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt to the Promised Land. The 40 days parallels the 40 years journey. His temptations parallel those experienced by the people in their transition to becoming God’s people. At the heart of these temptations is His & their spiritual identity: what does it mean to be “God’s beloved”?

In the Sinai, the people complained of being hungry – so God must not be with them. Jesus rejects the connection between being physically filled (whether it be with food or anything else we crave) & being spiritually loved. In negative terms, Jesus may be hungry, but He is still God’s Beloved Son.

During the Exodus, the people took their special relationship with God to mean privilege & this entitled them to protection. They complained when this security did not materialize. Even today, when something terrible happens to us we are apt to ask, “Why me?” as if to suggest that we should be exempt from such things.

Jesus refuses to presume on divine love: you do not put yourself in danger so God can protect you & show others that you are truly God’s Son. In fact, he was not safe, but He would still be the Beloved Son.

The third temptation is the most difficult & fatal for all humans: the will to power. When we cannot get our way in the conventional manner, we too often turn to our ability to tear down & destroy so as to assert our perverse need to feel powerful. But Jesus is a Jew of the first commandment. He only worships “the Lord your God.” So he rejects Satan’s proposition with vehemence.

In sum, the devil had tried to seduce Jesus into thinking that what it means to be God’s Son is to be physically satiated, physically safe, & politically powerful. Jesus refused all 3 interpretations. So much for the Gospel of prosperity.

There is a sense in which all temptations, minor & major, include the question of identity, the sense of who we are. Jesus’ temptations are directly on the level of spiritual identity. The devil begins 2 of the 3 temptations with, “If you are the Son of God.” Then he spells out what that means. So the temptations may be actions in the world, but they are based on a false understanding of who Jesus is.

This level of “who we think we are” is the hidden dimension on which temptations play. This is why thinking that we are something we are not (either too much or too little) can be dangerous. This is why humility (which means being realistic) is so vital to a healthy spirituality. When we do not know who we are, we enter into the temptation. When we do know who we are, we can reach for the resources to resist it.

Knowing who we are is the flip side of knowing who we are not. This is why it is possible to say “No!” to something that threatens our spiritual identity. We are saying, in effect, “That simply is not me!” Sounding out & discovering our true spiritual identity is one of the most important things we can do this Lent. Good luck & God bless!