February 18, 2007


When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. – Luke 4: 13

Luke’s Gospel makes it clear that the temptation of Christ was not just a one-time event. In particular, these three temptations would plague Him throughout His ministry, because they go to the core of who He was – His identity.

The first (to turn a stone into bread) is a “good temptation” in the sense that it is not blatantly wrong-headed. It has a semblance of truth about it & is attractive enough to be seriously considered. We rarely choose an obvious evil, but something we consider good.

Who can deny that God is concerned about human hunger? Had He not provided manna & quail for the Israelites during the Exodus? This temptation suggests that people can be appeased if their physical needs are met. Everyone knows that “bread & circuses” is a proven form of people control. Promise them they will be full & safe & they will let you get away with anything. Dictatorships prefer this strategy. The problem is it doesn’t take into account the spiritual & moral dimensions of people. “One does not live by bread alone.”

The second temptation is more subtle & perhaps the hardest for any human being to resist: the will to power. If Jesus wants political & social power to better the social conditions that structure human life, He must play the games of coercion & division. The way of Satan is the path of advance. All Jesus has to do is commit Himself to the strategy of accusing other people & dividing them. But He adores the Father whose way is forgiveness & reconciliation. He will bring about the Kingdom not by the tactics of temporal power but by the personal call to conversion. The kingdoms of the world are not to be imitated but to be transformed.

Finally, the devil suggests that accompanying credentials are more important than the way a person actually thinks & acts. The authentication cannot come from the preaching or teaching itself. It must come from an accompanying sign. Show is always to be preferred to substance. Since when should a principled person be a recommendation for anything? Such an approach avoids essentials & tries to manipulate the surface.

This last temptation will reappear in full force at the Crucifixion. If Jesus would just save Himself & come down from the Cross, it would prove that God was with Him. The problem with miracles is that they encourage people to passively wait for God to do all the “heavy lifting.”

But for Jesus, as sons & daughters of God, we are called to act like Him in love, peace & justice. Genuine religious & moral action is the essential sign that people are living in God’s covenantal love. This is the only test, the test to which God invites His children. Can we imitate the love of God?

The devil did his best to seduce Jesus into using strategies that looked like they might further His ambitions. But our Lord saw them for what they were – betrayals of His identity – & He refused them. It remains to be seen if we can do the same. AMEN!