The Temptation Of Jesus
In both Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels, Jesus begins his public life with a retreat into the desert. In the Judaic tradition, the desert is the place where one encounters God. Jesus goes into the desert to pray, and in the course of his 40 days in the wilderness, he is tempted.
This Gospel is placed at the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, the season in which Christians are invited to encounter God, like their Lord and Saviour Jesus. Lent is the time to be spiritually challenged and tempted.
The three temptations of Jesus can be summed up as temptations to power. They are not commonplace, such as our own temptations to wealth, theft or sex. They are all related to the misuse of power on his divine mission.
The first temptation, to change stones into bread, is to use miraculous power to provide for ordinary needs. Jesus replies in the words of Scripture, from the book of Deuteronomy: he will not fulfil his mission by providing for basic physical needs, but by proclaiming God’s word which alone gives life.
The second temptation urges Jesus to provide a spectacular sign which would compel people to belief in his mission. Once again Jesus quotes Deuteronomy to show that God does not fulfill his plans by sensational displays, so one shouldn’t ask for this either.
The third temptation is that of political messianism: let Jesus use power and force of arms to accomplish his mission. Jesus’s answer is dismissive. Secular messianism is akin to the worship of false gods.
Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years and was tempted in various ways. Jesus is the new Israel and he shares with his Church the temptations of his mission. Matthew’s Gospel is addressed to the community of disciples. Like its Lord and Saviour, this community must not succumb to using its powers for its own benefit, nor yield to the attractiveness of political power, but be faithful to its mission of being a ‘servant of Yahweh’ through suffering, persecution and death.
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