Readings: Genesis 2:7-9;3:1-7: Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
What are these three temptations? Do they confront the personality of Jesus or are they addressed to his mission? And what about us? If we are members of Christ, what might these temptations say to us?
Over the years I continue to find deeper dimensions to these temptations. Certainly, they test the mettle of Jesus, revealing all he could be for us. They may reflect how he’s put together. Perhaps they address what we humans expect of a Messiah and, as such, intrude on Jesus’ self-understanding. No one of us is immune to our human environment and, for better or worse, our family, our neighbors, our enemies or friends, our contemporaries shape our vision, re-enforcing our strengths or our weaknesses. When Jesus assumed our humanity, he also assumed that dynamic, that definition of human development. These temptations are important.
Stones becoming loaves of bread: could that be self-gratification? Or could it also be feeding the hungry masses? Or eliminating the question, how can God let innocent people starve? Is that what we look for in God: the answer to our problems, the banishment of our inconvenient responsibilities for one another? A cure-all filling in the gaps?
Throwing himself from the parapet of the Temple: is that forcing God’s hand? Or is it forcing our wills? If God were so unambiguously to reveal the divine power to save, if God were so evident, then I’d have no choice but to accept God as a given. Belief and trust in God might no longer be a struggle but they would no longer be free. There would be no love, no longing in them. God would be reduced to another fact, like gravity, a force that controls me and, as such, never again attracts my attention. God would become so forgettable.
Worshiping Satan for the wealth of the world: is that greed and total control? Might it also be tailoring god to my specifications rather than responding to the living Mystery, whom I encounter in my life experience, in the challenges of spiritual growth, in my collisions with other people?
Certainly all of these temptations indicate that even Jesus cannot afford to box God into narrow expectations without betraying the living and sovereign God who operates here and now and always. Surely these temptations unmask any religion, ant messiah who only soothes and sedates me but fails to challenge me or stretch my imagination, my will and responses.
None of us are called to be the Messiah. But aren’t we called, in our own ways, to continue the Messiah’s mission? Aren’t we called, in ways small or large, hidden or obvious, to make his mission active now? May not the ultimate temptation be to sit on the Messiah’s laurels, keeping my hands clean while forsaking his kind of engagement with our world?