Saturday, March 22, 2014

The First Temptation: Not By Bread Alone

SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 4.1-4 [Jesus' first temptation in the wilderness]

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Jesus is taken to the wilderness – this wilderness time is not of Jesus’ own choosing.  As Melissa Harmon says, “This is Jesus’ spiritual boot camp.”

He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 

This hunger is very different than ordinary hunger – not because of how long it lasted, but because of why it was.  Jesus was famished because he had fasted – that is, he had deliberately abstained from food as a spiritual discipline.

Fasting is an act of strengthening rather than weakening.  It is a way of drawing closer to God by putting away all distractions, including the distraction of the belly. Thus it would seem clear that Jesus knew he was to face trials or tests and he prepared to meet them.  It is ironic, then, that his first temptation has to do with the very fact of his preparation.

The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 

The Tempter is first referred to as ‘the devil’, in Greek,  diabolou - literally ‘The Slanderer’ (the lie teller) or ‘the adversary’ (opponent, enemy).  This is the adversary of God come to thwart the divine plan for Jesus.

But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Deuteronomy 8 is a sermon by Moses to the people about to enter the promised land.  Verse 3 from which Jesus quotes says, “[God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna . . . in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

God reminds the people before they enter into their prosperity that in their poverty, God was their provider.

This is the passage Jesus quotes to The Tempter to reject his offer to make a stone sandwich – the passage that reminds the people Israel not to sacrifice their souls in favor of their bellies . . . that tells them in advance that God well knows who they are and how they will behave . . . that when they get all they want or need, they’ll be tempted to claim all the credit for themselves and deny God in the process.

Perhaps this, then, is at the heart of Jesus’ first temptation: the desire to rush ahead to try to do for ourselves, to take credit for what we have and in the taking, deny the God who provided all along.

Thus might we understand Jesus’ answer:  You, Tempter, would have me turn my back on all God has done for me just to show off what a big deal I am – stone sandwich maker, indeed!  You really think a little snack is worth more to me than God?  I may not see the path ahead clearly.  I may not like where it takes me.  I might plead with God to change my destiny.  But I cannot not forget my God.  Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, my hunger made me stronger, not weaker.  Guess you weren’t paying attention that day in class!

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