Learning Time: (audio file)
The tricky thing about the ways Jesus was tempted, is he was offered things that are not in themselves bad, or corrupt, or inherently evil. They are things, or questions about things that any of us can, and do face.
We all have to eat. So if a person had the ability to turn stones into bread, that could be incredibly helpful.
We need leaders to follow and look up to, and there is nothing wrong with aspiring to be well known, and exercise leadership.
There is also nothing inherently wrong with taking risks and trusting God to ultimately take care of us. If we live the opposite way, and never take risks, it is unlikely that we will grow as people, or learn very much, invent anything new, or ever make a difference.
So why does Jesus resist? We need more context, to understand his responses.Looking closely may also inform how we face our own temptations.
I was reading this week about the 5 “W” questions journalists are trained to ask.
Do you ever watch the CTV News show, W5?
Who, What, Why, Where, When. There’s also an H question: How?
Let’s take one of the temptations, the one about fame and power, and run it through the W’s, and then the H question:
Who was offering Jesus power? If we read the story literally, the tempter is a devil figure, or a trickster, or Satan, the great deceiver. If we read the story more symbolically, the tempter could be the ego, or that smaller part of ourselves that looks for the easiest way to get by, and tries to rationalize that the easy way is the best way, even if it isn’t.
Whether the voice of the tempter comes from an external source, like a devil, or an internal one- part of his own mind or personality, Jesus is wise enough to know that it’s not the voice of God, or even from the best part of himself.
The tempter said, “If you are God’s Own, command this stone to turn into bread.” This was a challenge, to get Jesus to prove he was a big deal- it was an appeal to pride and ego. Usually, that tactic is enough to tell us what we need to know, which is to not take the suggestion at face value, or to trust the source.
What exactly was on offer? Jesus was offered the “power and the glory of all the nations”. Power and the glory sounds a lot like the Lord’s Prayer. The tempter offered Jesus a position in which people would look upon him as a very big deal, and all he had to do was bow down to the tempter.
When someone offers me a job, I need to hear not only about the perks, but also about the actual work involved.
I turn to the Gospel according to Marvel Comics for wisdom on this one. As Spiderman learned, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The tempter says, you can have this great office with an amazing view, and all you have to do is make me first in your life. If the tempter is the Devil, putting the devil first sounds like a bad plan. If the tempter is an aspect of our own character, that could be just as bad. Take the job, accept the perks, and don’t worry about anybody but yourself.
Why? Why would Jesus be tempted in this way? According to the timeline of his life that we get from the Gospels, he was at the very beginning of his public ministry. He was just starting to connect with people, gather a crew of disciples, and move from village to village, sharing his message. It must have been hard work.
The tempter effectively said, sign on with my way of doing things, make yourself the focus, rather than God, or the people you want to help, and you can very quickly rise to fame and glory.
When we see a tough task ahead of us, or a big problem to solve, it can be tempting to go for a quick and easy option. The reality is that in most cases, there are no quick or easy ways to solve big problems. There are no substitutes for time, hard work, sacrifice, commitment, and integrity.
Where? The tempter in the story took Jesus to a high place, far above the earth where ordinary people live and move and have their being- where life is complicated, and hard, and tragic, and heartbreaking, as well as beautiful, and meaningful, and precious. It’s hard to see the details, from way up in the sky. From high up, happy people and sad people look exactly the same.
The temptation here is to be above it all, and safe from all the hard parts of life- like sickness and sadness and loss and grief. The temptation here is actually to deny our human nature.
When? The tempter offered Jesus this high profile position just as he was on the brink of his public ministry. If the little voice is inside Jesus’ head, rather than an actual devil, it could be speaking for the part of Jesus that was not sure he really wanted to embark on the path of teacher, preacher, healer.
It was a path that would inevitably lead him into a head on collision with grief, sickness, the pain and difficulties of the real world. Drawing attention to those things would put him in the sights of the political and economic powers who liked how things were, and would not want Jesus to encourage common people to think better of themselves.
The last question is How? How could the tempter offer Jesus this high-flying position?
The simple answer is that the tempter is lying and can’t really give Jesus anything. Jesus would still have to do all the work, to get to that high place. He might have to give up his higher ideals, and his original mission, to achieve the imagined place of power. He might have to be manipulative, and controlling, and misuse his power along the way.
The tempter would win, not by handing Jesus the false prize, but by convincing Jesus to chase the wrong goals, using the wrong methods.
The answer Jesus gave was this:
“Scripture has it: ‘You will worship the Most High God; God alone will you adore.’ ”
Jesus told the tempter, and/or the little voice inside himself that might be attracted to the easier, less painful way, that he has to keep his eyes on God, place his trust in the rightness of his mission, and not get too distracted from, or avoid being who he is meant to be. Amen