In the Gospel of Matthew, no sooner than we read about Jesus’ baptism and hear a voice from heaven say ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we turn the page and we hear: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
Another valid translation for the word “to tempt” is “to test.” What if the translators had given us the legacy of this narrative known as the “The Testing of Jesus?” What are we to make of it then? Would it change our perspective or understanding? Here’s something to consider
For Satan, it’s another great opportunity to confront the one representing all humanity. Where Satan tested Adam and Eve in the Garden with the shrewd invitation for them to taste the apple and be like God (Gen 3:5), here Satan shrewdly tests an exhausted Jesus with questions that essentially ask: “Can you be fully human? Can you relinquish power? Can you bear the vulnerability of what it means to be weak and mortal and human? Can you live and work in anonymity away from the glow of power and fame?
On the flip side, this divinely-allowed test becomes an invitation for Jesus to confront his humanity. The humanity we experience. If we are hungry, we wouldn’t want bread. If in danger, protection and from a legion of angels is all the better. And if only we were in charge of the world, wouldn’t we set things right? Seems reasonable. But this is a test, an invitation for Jesus to fully identify as fully human even as he is fully God.
Being human means that unmet desires are part of life and not an aberration. Sure, Jesus can use divine powers to cheat hunger. He can take a stone that has its own created role, its own beauty and purpose and possess, convert and consume it to satisfy his hunger. But then he never learns what desires have to teach us. He never approaches the hunger beneath the hunger. He avoids the human questions: Can we be loved and hungry at the same time? Desire and still flourish? Lack and still live generously, without exploiting the beauty and abundance all around us? Can Jesus learn what it means to be hungry in a world waiting for redemption.
Hunger in and of itself is not a virtue, it’s a classroom. To sit patiently with desire — to become its student — and still embrace our identity as God’s beloved – that is to be fully human.
The second temptation targets Jesus’s vulnerability. Some think because we are beloved of God, then God will keep us safe. Safe from physical and emotional harm, safe from frailty and disease, safe from accidents, safe from death. It’s such an enticing lie, because it targets our deepest fears about security in a broken world. We want to believe that we can leverage our belovedness into an impenetrable shield from which God guarantees us swift and lasting rescue … if we just believe hard enough.
We need only look to Good Friday and the cross to know that God’s beloved children still bleed, still ache, still die. We are loved in our vulnerability; not out of it. The ashes on our forehead are a reminder that we will surely die, that our bodies will fail us no matter how we attempt to preserve them with medicine, exercise, cosmetics, or mindfulness. To be fully human is to face vulnerability.
The third temptation targets Jesus’s ego. The whole world is offered for Jesus to take up what is rightfully his. He need not labor in anonymity at the farthest edge of the Roman empire. He is the Son of God and should be center stage, applauded, admired, and envied. He should live a life of significance not surrender. The subtle question is does Jesus think God sees or cares for him when the powers-that-be don’t even know he exists? These are human questions of our desire to be important, to be significant.
Three temptations. Three invitations. Each day we face the same three as did Jesus. What will we do with them? Jesus chose scarcity over comfort. Vulnerability over rescue. Obscurity over fame. Even as the words of his baptism faded, “…my beloved Son” in the classroom of humanity he learned how to still be beloved in a lonely wilderness. To be and know love even while hungry with desires, lacking security, and striving in obscurity. To decide who and whose he is.
Lent is a time to again decide who and whose we are. It’s a time to embrace all that it means to be human.
Human and hungry. Human and vulnerable. Human and beloved.
May the God who loves us in our wildernesses, give us a holy Lent.
Thanks so much for posting! I didn’t appreciate how far Jesus went to empathize with us when we sin or in other words, when we choose serve ourselves before God.
A good friend explained to me that most of our sorry excuses for sinning are supported with evidence from three categories: Existence, Entitlement, and/or Ego.
(1) Existence: Our desperate search for those things essential to our existence (survival) or entertainment (sanity) lead us to believe, “We need it!”
(2) Entitlement: Our thread-bare patience after years of abstinence or waiting our turn lead us to think, “We deserve it!”
(3) Ego: Our over-inflated sense of self esteem leads us to think, “We can handle it!”
Nicely put – and an alliteration as a plus