Contemplating Jesus

THE PERTINENT TEMPTATIONS

Posted on by Lucinda M. Vardey

William Hole (l846-1917): Temptation of Jesus

After Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke report that he ventured out alone into the wilderness to fast for forty days.  Undoubtedly, this time was to be of great significance: a call to clarity, a strengthening of spirit and a gaining of future knowledge.

Just as his ancestors knew and experienced before him, the desert in its seeming barrenness serves as a canvas on which God paints truth.   In the desert there is no escaping truth, no denying it and no way to be distracted from it. For Jesus the desert too served as training ground for the ministry he was to embark upon.  It was the place where he solidified his relationship with God in order to marry the power of the Divine with his manhood.

Towards the end of his desert retreat, Luke writes that having eaten nothing Jesus is naturally famished.   This is when the devil makes an appearance  and begins to provoke him in the arena of human desire.  If indeed Jesus is the son of God, could he not turn any stone into a loaf of bread to fill his aching stomach and strengthen his body?  Quoting the Book of Deuteronomy (8:3) Jesus retorts  “One does not live by bread alone,” –  i.e. the food of essential life is also of the Spirit, the soul.  Next the devil, announcing his authority over the secular, tempts Jesus with perilous lures of the ego, promising him kingship over the entire world if he would cede to him in worship.  Jesus’ response is as a command, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him,” (ref: Exodus 34:14) – i.e. get your priorities in the right order and be obedient to God alone.  Then the devil begins to gamble suggesting Jesus throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem to prove that the angels will bear him up and protect his body from harm.  Jesus’ answer is not to put God to the test, (ref Deuteronomy 6:16) –  i.e. to hold fast to faith (belief without evidence).  Then Luke tells us, the devil makes his exit, (Luke 4:13). The path is clear.  Jesus’ messiah-ship can proceed.

In order to perform the powerful miracles and healings, and raisings from the dead and the wisdom teaching of the parables, Jesus had to not only dismiss the devil’s tricks and temptations but to rise above them. This rising above was not just about being spiritually and morally fortified but it was about redirecting the emphasis.  The relationship with God was of course the central priority and the very essence of everything for Jesus as the man, the human.  What Jesus illustrates in coming out of the desert is that it isn’t going to be about him as a human at all.  It isn’t about his desires for himself, his needs being met, his glory being glorified: it is going to be a different way, a way that begins with God and points everything Godward.

Jesus is to teach and illustrate what this way is like by doing things differently from the accepted norm while manifesting the power of God through him always for the benefit of others.  This he did in his final years right through to the ultimate: the greatest temptation of all: hanging willingly on the desert of his cross.  He chooses to die naked, surrendered and vulnerable while others mock and taunt that if he is indeed the Messiah, he could easily release himself from his fateful suffering.  But, as in the desert with the devil, Jesus’ crucifixion is not about himself.  Jesus died, as he had lived –  for others.   By doing so he teaches that human temptations are transformed by offering everything to God for Love’s sake alone, the kind of Love that overcomes death.

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