Temptation in the Desert

Temptation in the Desert March 5, 2022

 

 

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.

The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written
            You shall worship the Lord, your God,
                        and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
            He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
 and:
            With their hands they will support you,
            lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
            You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

 

The Holy Spirit who is the Paraclete, the Comforter, led Jesus into the desert: not because the desert is a good place to be, but because sometimes, to get to a good place, you have to go through a desert.

And so Jesus went out to the desert, and fasted for forty days. After forty days He: He, the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, was hungry. He was vulnerable. He didn’t have the things a human needs to stay alive. This was something He chose to do. He was God who has everything and needs nothing, but He chose to become fully human. A human is a thing which has needs which may or may not be met, which can be full or hungry, sad or happy, whole or wounded, alive or dead. Those were things that Jesus could be now, and at this moment He was hungry.

That was when the devil came to tempt Him. The devil was certainly not human. Indeed, we’re told, from the very beginning of creation, the devil was disgusted at the thought of humans. Humans are distasteful, weak, squishy things, embarrassing things, things that scandalize the spiritual world by being spirits but also flesh. Flesh and spirit are two different realities. The spiritual realm and the material realm should be kept apart from one another. God and His angels dwell in Heaven, and earth is down below the firmament where it’s dusty. That’s as it should be. And if God doesn’t think it should be– well, at least the devil and his minions would see reason, even if it meant turning their backs on Heaven. Some things are more important. Through all the eons, the devil remained a spirt, an evil one, but powerful. Meanwhile, God carried out His plan to become man.

The devil who needed no food approached the hungry Man Who was also God– with revulsion, because such a paradox should never be. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Come on, you disgrace. You’ve chosen to become an amphibian, a body and also a spirit. Do what bodies do. Eat rocks. Crawl in the dirt and eat dust all the days of your life. Let me see the Son of God eat. 

Jesus told the devil something the devil didn’t know. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

The devil thought this was nonsense. Men are flesh. They’re animals. They live to eat and drink and defecate and sleep, to breed and spew their dirty offspring to all corners of the material world. The Word from the Mouth of God is spiritual. It’s for beings like him, not beings like us. True, he disobeyed the words from the Mouth of God, but that’s beside the point. The Word isn’t for people.

So the devil took Jesus up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. That’s what all the kingdoms of the World are, to a spirit: an instant. A flash in the pan. Dust on the scales. A thing that exists for a moment and then doesn’t exist anymore. Rome is an instant. Athens is an instant. Mesopotamia is an instant. The USSR is an instant. The United States of America are a single noisy instant. Kingship, empire, power, glory: these are flashy trinkets that the devil waves in front of humans in order to make them hurt one another, because humans are foolish and vain. They like to climb to the top of a pile of other humans and declare themselves king, only to be toppled over again in a moment. They like to set down an arbitrary rule, and demand everybody follow it, and hurt the people who don’t see why they should follow. White is better than black because a white person said so. Male is better than female because a male said so. The one who stuffs his pockets with gold is better than the one who doesn’t, and here’s the gold to prove it.

“I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

And Jesus, a Man, turns away from the kingship of every nation on earth, because the price being asked isn’t worth it. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him alone shall you serve.” 

This is needling the devil in a very personal place, because serving the Lord was the one thing the devil couldn’t manage to do. He refused to do it because it meant serving people. People are animals, and below spirits. Everybody knows that. Because a spirit said so. They should follow the rules.

The devil, offended now, tries one more trick. He takes Jesus up to the top of the temple, the place of sacrifice, the place where the Presence dwells above the Mercy Seat. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,  and: With their hands they will support you,  lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Go on, Son of Man. Be a man. Do what men do. Be reckless. Dive headlong off the monument you built to honor a God you couldn’t see. Try to fly and watch yourself fall.  Either you’ll smash on the ground and I’ll like it– or the angels, the ones who were once my brothers, the brown-nosing sissies who insisted on serving as you asked, will catch you, and I’ll laugh at the state they’ve put themselves in. Imagine, spirit catching flesh. Imagine a thing that is powerful, beautiful and clean, stopping a human from falling. Imagine spirit stopping a creature made of dust from hitting the dust. 

Jesus is having none of that. He won’t put on a show to impress the devil, no matter what the result. “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” And the devil goes away for a time, but he’ll be back.

And Jesus will win.

Jesus will go to Calvary and carry the whole world with Him. He will be lifted up from the earth, nailed to the cross, flesh and spirit together pinned to wood with metal, all of creation wedded to God and suspended in that torturous place between Heaven and Earth. Then the veil will be broken and the firmament opened, and all will be gathered to Him. All. Everything together in the messiest way, dust and ashes and air and water and spirits and human flesh, for God is everywhere present and filling all things, and loves all things, and desires to reconcile all to Himself.

The devil could not comprehend this, so he left.

And then the angels came, and ministered to Jesus, and to us.

 

 

 

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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