Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
Right before St. Luke’s account of Jesus temptation, appears Jesus’ genealogy, all the way back to Adam. Jesus is the new Adam and the archetype of what we were created to be. Jesus’ three temptations–turning a stone into bread, worshipping the devil to gain the power and glory of the world, and flinging himself off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove that he is the Son of God–have been interpreted as inspiring the three vows of consecrated life. Chastity counters our appetites; poverty, our drive to dominate; obedience, our thirst to be divine.
But aren’t the three temptations also specific, a portrait of Jesus? Other vulnerabilities are not mentioned in his regard.
His relationships are not driven by lust but remain uncomplicated and pure. He can risk public contact with women in a culture which avoided such interchanges to protect women; he can love men without losing his balance; he can patiently welcome the unattractive, the needy and the tedious, disregarding self-satisfaction or fulfillment.
He does not wrestle with rage. Without being weak, he displays gentleness and compassion but he also knows when anger is employed to achieve justice. He may drive the money changers from his Father’s House and refers to Herod as that fox, but he exhibits no loss of control.
A good meal, however, is another question: the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they called him a glutton and a drunkard. A loaf of bread after forty days of fasting sounds pretty good.
What about the charismatic preacher, so hounded by crowds that he has no time to eat? Was the wily devil just taking a random shot to offer Jesus the power and glory of the world?
And wasn’t it his mission to reveal that he is the Son of God? Wouldn’t throwing himself off the Temple to be rescued by a host of angels be irrefutable proof to everyone?
Just to have a clearer portrait of Jesus’ inner life from these temptations intrigues me; but something deeper is revealed. These vulnerabilities are but the matrix of hidden strengths.
Jesus will dine to welcome sinners and mend hearts broken by compunction. If he does not turn stone into bread, he breaks bread to share his Body, to gather us together as his Body.
Jesus will minister through powerlessness, available to the demands of the crowds whether they seek his teaching or his healing or his life.
It is the Father, and not Jesus, who will reveal who he is in the company of only three disciples on Mount Tabor, far beyond the crowds. Powerless, Jesus leaves us to depend on the witness of three weak men, none of whom we know personally. Does he ever coerce our allegiance? Doesn’t he know that faith and love are only given freely–or they are not faith and love?
His vulnerabilities do not defeat Jesus but fuel him. And if, as St. Luke suggests, Jesus is the archetype of what we are created to be, what about my frailties, my vulnerabilities, my temptations? What potential lies there?