I was thinking…about temptation

One of my Lenten goals is to be more mindful of my time usage, and part of that is to be more aware of what I’m trying to accomplish each day while simultaneously not beating myself up if life gets in the way of it. (“Life” in this instance being things like “the baby refused to sleep outside my arms,” not “and then Facebook kept being interesting.”) (Though since I do conduct a great deal of socialization via Facebook, I’m not cutting it out completely. But I AM trying to be more mindful, and keep up with my correspondence. Anyway.)

Since I’m usually lucky enough to get a good solid afternoon nap out of the baby (who is TEN MONTHS OLD your pardon is begged), I thought I would try devoting one afternoon nap a week to posting on the blog again. So here we go, with some baby steps, based on this past Sunday’s Gospel reading.

A quick recap: the reading, Luke 4:1-13, is at the bottom of this page. I’ll copy the parts I specifically want to address here:

(vs. 1-2) Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.

Last fall my CWOC group read the first half of Fr. James Martin, S.J.’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage, which is a lovely mix of scholarship, travelogue, and spiritual reflection focusing on grounding the Gospel–and thus, the human Jesus himself–in the physical reality of the Holy Land. It’s given me new tools for considering Christ as well as a better understanding of and perspective on the stories contained within as well as, I have to say, deepening my affection for Jesus as a person. I mean, obviously he’s a person, and a Person, and as a Christian I am striving to love Him while also being infinitely (or finitely, I suppose) aware of my inadequacies and ignorance in that department. And obviously, Ignatian meditation is all about putting yourself in the Gospel scene, so it’s not like this is anything new. But I find myself better able to picture walking alongside Jesus–a guy, a friend, someone who laughed at jokes and liked washing the dirt off his feet at the end of a long day of walking–and with it has come an affection for his human frailties, which he experienced as clearly as I experience my own.

(Perfectly, of course, and with less complaining.)

And I’ve also come to appreciate more the dry understatement of the Gospels. One of the stories Fr. Martin focuses on is the the healing of the Gerasene Demoniac, and he spends a good bit discussing the way Mark sets the scene. Mark is the “sparsest” Gospel, and so it’s interesting that in the midst of his hurry to make sure all the big things Jesus said and did got written down, he spends four verses describing not only the behavior of the man but also the setting in which he found himself.

I digress. The point is that the Gospels, while each telling a coherent narrative shaped by a different spiritual perspective, sometimes include throwaway details, or state things so simply that it’s easy to miss the implications of what’s being said, especially if it’s something we’ve heard a thousand times.

“He ate nothing during those [forty] days, and when they were over he was hungry.”

Well, duh. But at the same time–here is God Incarnate, for whom the psalmist hungered and thirsted, experiencing that same hunger. Only worse, because it’s FORTY DAYS’ WORTH OF HUNGER. “He was hungry” more like “he was starving and also probably pretty thirsty because what water he could get wasn’t much, and also he was filthy and tired because when you’re that hungry it’s really hard to function, and he was also probably being tempted by hanger but being Jesus he didn’t give in but it was still a thing, or maybe he was past hanger, who knows, the point is if Satan showed up and tried to quiz me when I was that hungry I’m pretty sure the only response he would get would be ‘bluhbluhbluh.'”

Speaking of…

(vs. 3) The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”

Ah Satan. Always hitting us where we’re weakest. Also, note how he starts out with the easy, obvious temptation: hey man, you hungry? Why not throw around a little divine weight and make that better? Why not use your divinity however you please, instead of however’s best? It’s just a tiny little piece of bread, after all. Aren’t you hungry?

Also when I was typing that bit above about only being able to manage “bluhbluhbluh” I had a brief moment of “how beautiful is it that Christ’s ‘bluhbluhbluh’ state is to fall back on Scripture, like, he knows it so well and it’s so ingrained within him that stripped of everything else and with his mind in hungry little shreds it’s where he immediately turns.” (We see this again on the Cross, of course.) And then as I was halfway through typing that I thought, “well, of course it’s so ingrained within him, HE IS THE WORD, AFTER ALL.”


(vs. 5-7) Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Satan continues through trickier temptations, this time appealing not to human!Jesus’s physical state but to the inner hungers we have for control.

More importantly, that bolded bit struck me as particularly important to remember in an election year. While we do have a certain level of belief that earthly power is somewhat divinely ordained (render unto Caesar, etc.), and while it’s certainly possible for good people to arise to positions of power and do good work with it, earthly power and glory is fleeting and seductive. And easy to pursue for its own sake, instead of the sake of doing good, and it’s easy for the ambition for one to turn into the ambition, period, and it’s very, very easy for Satan to work on those in positions of power.

Our salvation doesn’t come from the people who are in power over us now, and salvation can’t be found in earthly power or glory. We’ve already got a Savior, and it’s nobody who’s currently running for office.

Also, whether or not God has actually handed over earthly power and glory to Satan (see: render unto Caesar), Satan certainly makes it seem that way, makes it seem like if you want to get anything done you have to deal with him. (This is not to say all compromise is making a deal with the devil, although I’m sure it often involves making a deal with the devil’s advocate.) We’re not called to bring about any particular kingdom of the world; we’re called to bring about the kingdom of heaven, which is also already here in our midst, because we’ve already won. Turns out we don’t need you after all, Satan! Thanks for asking!

(vs. 13) When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

And then we get to the end of the reading and bam. I mean, I know there’s a movie called The Last Temptation of Christ, but other than that most of the time when we think about Christ being tempted we think about this time in the desert. And sure, he wins and Satan departs…but he came back. (“Get thee behind me,” and all that.)

I find the juxtaposition between newly-baptized!Jesus and fainting-from-hunger!Jesus in this temptation sequence fascinating, because for the rest of us the mystagogia after receiving a one-time Sacrament is often simultaneously a time of great fortitude and great spiritual attack. Satan’s pretty grumpy about all that sacramental grace, which of course since it is newly received is easily accessible for fending him off. It’s easier to reach back and reconnect with that feeling of salvation, of strength and mercy and love, and to tell Satan to stuff it.

And so he does, and off he flounces, and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. And then a little bit of time intervenes, and life carries on precisely as it did before (only not, because everything is different, but that can be harder to see with baptism than it is with say marriage), and then the trials return, only this time everything feels routine and dull, and we have to put forth effort to remember Grace even when we aren’t feeling it or feeling like it. And that’s when Satan shows back up and the fight begins again. Even Jesus was tempted again.

Probably when he was hungry and someone else had just grabbed the last loaf of bread.

Categories: Scripture | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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