Even the Devil Quotes Scripture

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 – Proper 20, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 119:97-120 (morning) // 81, 82 (evening)

Esther 6:1-14

Acts 19:1-10

Luke 4:1-13

It doesn’t take long for the devil to catch on. Today’s gospel story recounts the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, and Jesus responds to the first two temptations with quotations from Scripture: first, “One does not live by bread alone”; and second, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” But two can play at this game.

The devil begins his third temptation with a Biblical quote of his own: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” The devil asks Jesus to test these Biblical promises of angelic protection by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple.

In other words, if Jesus has real faith, then he will prove it by taking these promises literally, right here and right now. If Jesus has real faith in God, then he’ll demonstrate that faith by taking God at his word . . . right?

I’m reminded here of the question that parents so often pose to their children to steel them against peer pressure: “Would you jump off a cliff if so-and-so told you to?” Perhaps a similar question could be posed to Christians: “Would you jump off a cliff if the Bible told you to?” Fortunately, Jesus’ faith does not depend on blindly following and testing literal interpretations of Bible verses.

Jesus’ faith rests on so much more. Jesus responds to the devil with another Biblical quotation: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” For Jesus, faith is not about memorizing Bible verses and subjecting their literal truth to extreme tests. For Jesus, faith is not a dependence on proving Biblical texts true or false. A faith like that would plunge us headlong from the pinnacle of the temple to the ground.

For Jesus, faith is about figuring out how to live not with testable certainty, but with trust.

Today’s gospel shows us that the devil knows how to use Scripture verses in combat, so we need something more than Bible verses in order to survive the devil’s assaults. What we need is to live, as Jesus did, with a radical trust in God. A trust that lives not by bread alone, not by acquiring power, not by having something to prove. A trust that lets all of these needs and compulsions go . . .

. . . for only then will we fall into the arms of angels.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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