AM Psalm 56, 57, 58; PM Psalm 64, 65
1 Kings 21:1-16; 1 Corinthians 1:1-19;
This story of the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness makes me deeply uncomfortable. But, perhaps not for the reasons you may think.
In the structure of Matthew’s narrative, this encounter in the wilderness immediately follows Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Coming up out of the water, soaked and disoriented, the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove. A voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
That same Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation. He fasts for forty days and forty nights, a parallel to the forty years of wandering and suffering the Israelites faced. And, when he is at his weakest and most vulnerable the devil appears.
These three temptations that Jesus faces may sound a bit odd to modern ears. Famished from fasting, the temptation to pray for stones to become bread seems reasonable and difficult to resist. The temptation of power and riches is also one that many humans have succumbed to throughout the course of history. But, what’s up with that middle one? Who would be tempted to throw themselves off of the top of a building?
This slightly odd grouping of tests have one huge thing in common. They all exhibit skepticism of Jesus identity as the Son of God. All three ask him to prove his identity, bringing his authority into question. And, this is precisely wherein my discomfort lies.
I’m uncomfortable because there is a large part of me that identifies most strongly with the devil in this setting. I’m uncomfortable because humanity has a history of offering individuals this same temptation- requiring proof of authority and power and identity- particularly victims and the underprivileged. I’ve had moments of seeking proof that God is present. I’ve had moments of wondering where God is in this broken world. I’ve had moments of questioning the authority of those who dare to speak from their own experience of the Divine. There are plenty of times when it’s been hard to have faith and trust in God.
Despite my concern that my self, and in many instances the world, very often aligns with the skepticism and the challenging of the tempter, I find hope in the way that Jesus responds. Instead of giving in to these tests in order to prove his identity and authority, Jesus chooses humility. He orients himself with ordinary people rather than using his power to join the ranks of the privileged. In that moment, Jesus finds the devil has gone and angels have come to wait on him.
Perhaps it’s in practicing faith and opening our hearts to each other’s authority that we too will find ourselves in the company of angels.
Sarah Brock is a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.
Image Credit: Briton Rivière, The Temptation in the Wilderness