Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
In this week’s story we encounter Jesus being led out to the wilderness to encounter the tester. This translation calls this roll the devil. In Greek it is translated to diabolos (it is where we get the word diabolical). This character is a little different in meaning than our modern eyes want to see it. This character is much more like the older Hebrew stories of the devil role. In books like Job and Genesis, we see the devil as kind of the code enforcer who works with God. His role is to make sure the structure is sound and nothing can sneak through that is not of God. The devil comes into play in the Hebrew scriptures when God wants to test out the people or the situations. The character in Matthew’s story is a little less of an ally but also not a complete enemy of God. A well translated version of this word is a person who throws something across someone’s path or speaks slander. A slanderer is not an ally but also definitely not a cosmic force of evil.
Jesus is led into the wilderness to deal specifically with this character. The Spirit leads him there. Think of it this way, Jesus has just been baptized as the Messiah. The Messiah is supposed to set the world right. That is a great and mighty task. When someone is a professional in an area, we test all angles to make sure they are ready for their task. A plumber is given stringent tests before being turned loose on the world. The Messiah will also be tested thoroughly before being turned loose on the world.
The tests are important ones to be sure. The tests are good ones to find balance for a leader and our human tendencies. The first test is about hunger. It is not a bad test either. Jesus has been fasting and fasts are meant to be broken (breakfast for example). But the Messiah refuses the food to remember that he belongs to God and where his food comes from. Do we remember where goodness comes from to fulfill our hunger?
The next test is about the laws of nature. The temptation is to be against the laws of nature. He could be immune and full of healing power. Why wouldn’t God want to protect this one who will set the world right to God? But this Messiah decides to stay as Emmanuel, God-with-us, and will be human in how he relates to the world. The laws of nature apply. Do we remember that God is with us and that we are part of that human system?
The final test appeals to the lure of revenge. He could get rid of everyone that has caused such pain and destruction. He could just take over and make sure killing doesn’t happen again. He would then worship the diabolical. But then the hope of justice with God is gone. Jesus is not willing to give that hope up. Will we continue to hope for justice? What if we thought about the wilderness as a good reset of what it means to be of God instead of destructive? The wilderness is necessary for Jesus in order to be centered on God. Perhaps we need the wilderness every once in a while to become more centered in our Creator.
Quotes of the week
“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” ― Mae West
“Power was my weakness and my temptation.” ― J.K. Rowling
“The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.” ― Will Rogers
“The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.” ― Thomas Merton
“Which of us can resist the temptation of being thought indispensable?” ― Margaret Atwood
“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” ― Martin Luther
Matthew 4:1-17 (NRSV) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 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.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Questions for the Week
When have you been tempted? How did you decide what to do?
What are the biggest temptations that we face today?
What helps us keep the path towards God? Do you trust that God will show up?