When Temptation Whispers

By Sandra Lommasson

Note:  Each week's reflection is intended for communal examination with at least one other person in a small faith, work, or family community as part of the annual six-week ‘retreat' of Lent.  The intent is to notice with freshness our own impact in a community and to name that aloud to others in the community in mutual revelation.  See the introduction to the series, "Tending the Communal Laundry," for more on this approach.

photo courtesy of deborah.soltesz via C.C. License at FlickrWhen the whisper of temptation comes -- and it will come as surely as we come to know our belovedness in God -- it is essential to recognize its voice and to know how to meet it. The story of Jesus' temptations in each of the respective gospels is our story and our work as people of the Way here and now, today -- not a study of the biography of Jesus 2000 years ago. Rather than putting the gospels into a blender and constructing an exalted ‘history' of Jesus, the invitation is to allow the grace of each distinct gospel to lead us into a living experience of Jesus the Christ among us now.

Because each gospel is like one chapter in the sequence of the Great Story where each movement leads us into the next (see www.quadratos.com), Luke's story of the temptations has a different flavor than Matthew's or Mark's.   In Luke's 4th path gospel of service, the flow of grace ushers us into bearing the gift we have received with joy back into a world that doesn't know how to receive us. 

We are not alone in this experience. The temptations follow a genealogy of Jesus unique to this gospel (Luke 3:23-38) that extends back well beyond tribal memory to a universal root: Jesus the tempted Christ of Luke is also a "son of Adam, son of God." In the flow of this genealogy, Adam, humankind, and we ourselves are sons and daughters of the Holy one with Jesus the Christ.  This is our unfolding story, and the annual six-week ‘Lenten retreat' of the community this year helps us look at how the call to mature in service might unwittingly fracture the community when its vitality is most needed.


Temptation in this Gospel is a constant companion on the long road of service into a world of unending need.


Temptation in this Gospel is a constant companion on the long road of service into a world of unending need.  This Jesus is not drawn (as in Matthew) or driven (as in Mark) into the wilderness. He's already there in the wilderness (Luke 4:1).  Similarly, while the temptations are more time bound in the earlier movements of the first and second paths, in Luke we discover that "When the devil had finished every test, he parted from him until an opportune time" (4:13).  This road is not an easy one because we have received the gift, and the gift is not an inoculation against ongoing temptation or difficulty. The good news is that the Christ of the 4th path is "full of the Holy Spirit," a description of the essential reality that makes the long marathon of authentic service possible.

Still, a marathon is a marathon and requires careful preparation and attentiveness to the needs of the body on the long way. The subtle shadings of the temptations of the 4th path Gospel of Luke reveal three ‘heads up' places on the road that can cause debilitating stress fractures in the community, robbing mission of its vitality:

  • the temptation to short-term gratification
  • the temptation to self-righteous authority, and
  • the temptation to confuse protection from life with God's desire

As you reflect on each temptation you might ask, "How have I/we in the last year been tempted by or succumbed to this temptation in our life together?  What has been the impact/cost of that choice among us (in either direction)?"  Practice simply naming what you notice aloud to your community without justifying or blaming. Pray together for God's perspective to reveal itself among you.  Ask forgiveness and/or set intentions for the next step as prompted by the Holy Spirit.


As you reflect on each temptation you might ask, "How have I/we in the last year been tempted by or succumbed to this temptation in our life together?"


The Temptation to Short-term Gratification

In the call to walk the long road of service, which has way stations but no end point, the seduction to short-term self-feeding can loom large. Taking the long-view and committing to it while noticing and accepting the nourishment given along the way requires great discernment. Discernment itself requires intention and time when the needs of the road beckon.  In The Hidden Power of the Gospels: Four Questions, Four Paths, One Journey, Alexander Shaianotes,