Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV) - The Temptation of Jesus
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Lent is upon us and with it, the annual reflection on the Temptation of Christ. This is the most physical of spiritual stories. I used to understand it as a great battle of wills that grows to a climax as the temptations grow more alluring. Lately I’ve become convinced that it’s in the first questions where the battle is won and lost.
Let me ask you a question, which of these challenges your relationship with God the most:
The desire to be successful, powerful and adored by the world?
The times when religion gets in the way of your relationship with God instead of showing you that you are loved by him?
Or the persistent, everyday worry that regenerates with each new stressor that presents itself as soon as you’ve dealt with the last thing?
When Satan tempts Jesus to turn the rock to bread, he is tempting him to believe the lie that life only gets going and that we only become our true selves when we have solved our most immediate, physicals need. The truth is that physical needs never go away, and we only become ourselves by listening to who God says we are (every word from his mouth!) in the midst of dealing with those needs.
There will always be a ‘to do’ list and a number of worries in the back of our minds. I find at the moment the greatest temptation is to believe I must manage all of these before I can sit down and listen to God or spend time with him. Satan seizes on Jesus’ most immediate need, his hunger for food.
“Just make a sandwich, Jesus... Just turn down the dial on God’s channel for a minute, and have a delicious sandwich. You can turn his voice back up right after. It’s not a big deal. Really, he won’t mind.”
You have to admit, it’s not a bad tactic. Genesis would tell you he brought down history with a piece of fruit. It seems very unspiritual in comparison to the other temptations, but I wonder if we downplay the role played in our disobedience by tiredness, poor nourishment and our drive to put food in our bellies and a roof over our heads? When it seems like that one physical object or solution to a problem that will make everything in life better is just beyond the horizon, it does start to feel like God is lying when he says we need to be with Him more than anything else.
For the second temptation, he brings Jesus to the most religious place in Israel and quotes scripture (the only one of the three where he does so), trying to use the paraphernalia of religion to put a question in Jesus’ mind about how much God cares for him. I wrote about Jesus’ baptism the last time I was on the blog and I realised today that the last words Jesus heard before he went to the desert were, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” He might not have had bread, but his soul had something hearty to feed on for 40 days. Instead of testing the words God says about loving Him, Jesus chooses to trust them.
By temptation No. 3, Jesus is basically laughing in Satan’s face. In his panic Satan stops trying to get inside Jesus’ head and starts thinking about what he would find tempting. Power holds no attraction for Jesus. At first consideration you might think a period of sacrifice would make him long for some creature comforts, but it’s more likely he felt repulsed by the materialism of the offer after a long stint in the desert reflecting on God and his vision for the world. “Away with you, Satan!” It’s like he’s swatting a fly.
Achieving status or bad experiences of religion could be tempting you to give up on God at the moment. May God bless you in your personal battle because they are very serious distortions of reality that damage us all to some degree. For me, the challenge of Lent this year is to learn how to let God interrupt as I work through the ‘to do’ list which is full of good things, but not deserving of the worship it currently receives.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.