The first Sunday in Lent is coming up. Right after we smear ashen crosses on each other's foreheads, we tumble into that Sunday morning where Jesus goes to the wilderness and is tempted by the devil.
There are three temptations, which is to say, I suppose, a trinity of them. I have often tried to crack the code around these three: turning a stone to bread, going after worldly power and jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. Are they three temptations unique to Jesus, the Son of God, or does some version of these temptations afflict all of us? I know that I am not able to turn a stone to bread, no matter how hungry I am, and it is hard to imagine myself jumping off any real height (although you may be more courageous or foolhardy in this regard). When I think of the word temptation, it is not these three situations that first come to mind.
I am tempted to buy things I do not need, for reasons that I cannot always express.
I am tempted to hold back when God is telling me to go, waiting for one more sign.
I am tempted to waste time, work too hard, worry, hoard, doubt.
I am tempted to remain silent when I should speak.
I am tempted to believe that the bread in my hands is just for me, not to share.
I am tempted to believe that the bread in my hands is only to share, but not for me.
What about you?
I can't help noticing this phrase with which he tempts Jesus twice, "If you are the son of God…" I notice it because both he and Jesus know he is, in fact, the son of God. He has just come from the river Jordan, and he is full of the Holy Spirit's power. How is he going to use it? For whom? "If you are the son of God…. just think of the explosion you could cause in the world."
Perhaps the question for Jesus is not a matter of his identity. Perhaps it is more a question of what kind of son will be be? How will he use his power? Who will he live for? What will he care about? Who will he see? Will he turn a stone into bread, or will he feed 5,000 people? Will he rule the world, or will he empty himself? Will he jump off the pinnacle of the temple, and count on the angels to bear him up? Or will he raise Lazarus after he has been dead for four days?
Will he save others, or will he save himself?
At the foot of the cross, those who taunt Jesus say these words, "He saved others; he cannot save himself." They are making fun of Jesus, but in those words are the truth. The Messiah is for others, not for himself.
The temptations are not quite the same for us as they are for Jesus. We may not be tempted to turn a stone to bread, but we might be tempted to believe that God's good gifts are for us, but not for others. We may not be tempted to accumulate worldly power, but we might be tempted to believe that we are secure because we have assets, or a roof over our head.
The temptations are not quite the same for us, but the weapon is the same one: the power of the Holy Spirit, the water and the Word, the love that has named us, and that promises us the only true bread, the only true power, the only true life.