Periodically, I’ve posted images here by the great French water color artist, James Tissot. His epic undertaking on the life of Christ is collected in the Brooklyn Museum, which periodically hosts special showings of his work.
One striking image has bearing on today’s gospel: it’s called “Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness.” Along with Tissot’s keen eye and vivid detail, it includes something especially provocative: the devil is depicted as a poor old man, starving in the desert, offering two stones to Jesus. He seems to be imploring Jesus to change the stones to bread to feed the both of them.Tissot is upping the ante here, significantly. It is one thing for Christ to deny himself bread. How can he deny the poor? How can he see this desperate man and not want to help? The devil is clearly not just going after Christ’s hunger, but also his heart—a heart that burns with love for the poor, the outcast, the neglected. It’s a brilliant choice by Tissot, I think, and dramatically raises the stakes. It demonstrates just how painful those days in the desert must have been. It underscores that the encounter with the Evil One was about more than craving bread. Satan went even deeper.
He does so with us, as well.
What are our soft spots? Where is the devil planting seeds of our own undoing? He might well be trying to undermine us in ways that seem, at first blush, so reasonable, so sympathetic, so compassionate, so kind.
But as Shakespeare noted — and Tissot may be hinting at it, too — the devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shape. And what could be more pleasing, more stirring to the Son of God than seeing a brother in need?