This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.
This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.
First of all, let’s think about the scene. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine. Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles. It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the devastation.” The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestones looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted.
(William Barclay / The Gospel of Luke p.52)
So, this is a story about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.
This is a story of confrontation and testing.
Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast.
There, he would shape his mission. He was searching for the answer of the question: What kind of spiritual leader would he be? He was pondering the question of how he could win over people.
There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.
First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him. Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: Our common dependence on the Father of all, who gives us our daily bread. Limestone, according to Barclay, looks like loaves.
A second harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world. You can be king of this world. This is the temptation to compromise: Don’t set your standards too high.
And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form. They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.
As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal. In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment. And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.
Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple and have his angels come and raise him up. This was the temptation to do something sensational. He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders. Things would be easier that way. People would easily follow a clever magician. But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.
The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the real order of the Father’s kingdom.
Jesus realized his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all. Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.
In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine. Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him. We can go–provided that we–like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.
In this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?
The answer was: to surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful. God could have intervened on behalf of his own son. But that was out of the question. The world could not accept God as a gentle Father. They found his message of love much too demanding. And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end. He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father , not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.
Jesus had to suffer and die because, tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard and preached.
The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.
This is a powerful lesson for those among us who would coerce others into being good.
The false voices that Jesus tamed and quieted–the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.
But there’s a final warning for us here. The Gospel passage today ends with this sentence: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him ~ for a time.”
The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear. And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the Jesus I know and love.
And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father. Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.
And now, before you go, here’s a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ Be Not Afraid. Click here. Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Also a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY to everyone!