“Father, will you listen to me? Are you still there? Will you listen to a selfish, unfaithful son? I fought you when you called, I resisted! I thought of no more. I didn’t want to be your son! Can you forgive me? I didn’t fight hard enough.” ~ Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis.
This time of year, we sometimes hear about Nikos Kazantzakis’s controversial novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, or more commonly, Martin Scorsese’s controversial film adaptation. To be honest, I have never read the book or seen the movie, but the line above caught my interest, as I searched for commentary on this Sunday’s gospel reading about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.
I’ve been there many times in recent years, as I have watched my faith in God and fervor for the gospel dwindle to less than a smoldering wick. Wondering if God was listening to me, if he was there, and finally, if he was even a reality. The battle in my mind was a constant “struggle against flesh and blood,” as I cried out to a seemingly silent deity, as a so-called selfish, unfaithful son. I was told by several people that this was the work of the devil, that he was deceiving me, with the ultimate goal of blinding me and separating me from God forever.
Sunday’s gospel reading mentions the three temptations that Jesus faced from Satan. After fasting forty days (a temptation that I would have given in to after about forty minutes, nevermind forty days), Jesus is challenged to turn stones to bread. Nope. Not gonna do it. Man doesn’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Boom. Scripture beats Scripture. Simple as that. This temptation I understand.
Then we read the other two temptations. Throw yourself down off the pinnacle and God’s angels will protect you. Odd temptation, not something I think that I would even consider doing. And, finally, Jesus is offered all the cities and kingdoms of the world to have dominion over, if he would just fall down and worship Satan.
So. Stinking. Subtle.
I mean, who would ever fall into that temptation?
I don’t make light of temptation to sin; although much of what the Church considers sinful I find irrelevant today. It just seems to me that the temptations Jesus faced were really only relevant to him and his potential kingship, and not the types of sin that us common people fall into. I don’t find myself being challenged to attempt suicide, knowing angels would be commanded to save me (really, where’s the risk in that temptation?), and I’ve certainly never been offered the kingdoms of the world. Were these temptations unique to Christ? Doesn’t Scripture say that he was tempted in every way that we were? Did the gospel narrative leave something out because it might have been deemed too scandalous – as suggested and explored in The Last Temptation of Christ?
Why wasn’t Jesus tempted with the normalities of life? Working a 9-5, getting married, raising some children, enduring the mindless chatter and banality of social media, constant sexuality in your face through mainstream advertising, or a constant search to escape this futility through alcohol, drugs, or an overindulgence of food? I feel that I can’t really relate to Jesus’ temptations. They seem so much more grandiose and larger than life. Maybe it’s something that Kanye or a Kardashian can relate to, but not me.
Although maybe, because I haven’t prayed or fought hard enough, I’ve actually given in to the biggest temptation of all. Disbelief. And just maybe, Satan doesn’t tempt me like he tempted Christ because I no longer believe in God or his word to save me from either this life or next.
John Robinson is a middle school math teacher in Sanford, Florida. He loves getting tattoos, listening to metal, and is constantly bragging about Florida winters.