Monday, February 11, 2008

The messianic temptations

     What did you mean that Jesus' temptations were messianic? -- I made the statement that the temptations faced by Jesus are nothing like what we face as His were messianic temptations. The statement pricked the ears of a few parishioners who asked that question. Simply put, the temptations of Christ are not simply an example to us. Yes, we can see how Jesus was tempted and how He dealt with those temptations, but the ones depicted in our readings for this week are specific to the messiah. How so?

     Keep in mind the beginning of each of the temptations -- "If You are the Son of God . . .". We should probably hear a snear or three in the challenge. The challenges that Satan is placing before Jesus go to His very identity. Satan knows full well who Jesus is. Jesus really is the Son of God. Yet here is the devil telling Jesus to do this, do that, "if You are the Son of God." The idea is that he can attack Jesus' pride. Better still, if Jesus refuses to tempt God or to feed Himself, maybe a seed of doubt will crop up in Jesus' mind or our own. In other words, "If You will not change these stones into bread, maybe You are not the Son of God . . .".  He did not do these simple challenges, maybe He is not who you think He is.

     Of course, the very temptations are meant to derail Jesus from His very purpose. Jesus is asked to feed Himself. The temptation is for Jesus to be concerned about this world and fall prey to the call of the temporal world, in this case the ravenous hunger of His flesh. Jesus refuses. He reminds Satan and us that we live "only by every word that comes from the mouth of God."

     Satan's next temptation is for Jesus to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Both Satan and Jesus knew full well the messianic expectations of the temple elite and the people. All knew that when the messiah came, they would be fed with manna. The idea was that the messiah would provide them with food as Moses did for Israel in the wilderness (maybe you now understand the further significance of the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000). Satan's real test is a mocking "prove it." If you are the Son of God, prove it. Jump! Yet Jesus reminds Satan and us that everything works out in God's time. We might want fulfillment now, but Jesus knows He serves another and His purposes. So He refuses to put God to the test.

     Satan's last temptation in our readings this week is the offer to rule everything now. What is hidden, of course, is the fact that Satan offers Jesus the same worldly and temporal authority which He will receive, but without the pain and suffering of the cross. Can you imagine the temptation? I can have all this without the hurt, the pain, the ridicule? -- talk about an unimaginable temptation! Yet Jesus teaches us a lesson that we should never compromise with Satan. Though the offer was amazingly tempting, Jesus chooses to serve only God!

     Each of the temptations is effective because they all represent in one way or another a offer to bypass the cross. Jesus is offered to feast, to be protected and cared for, and to become the ruler of all things on earth. Satan tempts the Lord with the allure of the glory minus the suffering on the cross. Thankfully, mercifully, Jesus understands that to bypass His cross is to lose all His glory. To bypass His cross is to lose each and every one of us.

     So often in life we want to live in God's glory. We want to live in the emotional high of the baptismal experience. We want to wrap ourselves in that warmth and euphoria. We want so much our lives to be awash with that love we first felt when we realized that the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, came down to save us. Yet Jesus' temptations remind us that our living, our ministry, takes place in the real world. Each of us is called to face the world as witnesses of His love and grace. More often than not, we are called to witness Him despite the world's testimony against Him and us. We are meant to live on God's bread alone, even if it is found only in the wilderness of our lives. But, we live on that bread knowing that the path He has placed each of us upon is the true path to glory. He has promised. Thankfully, mercifully, He keeps all His promises.


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