How does it feel like to be tempted?
The story of the temptation of Jesus is kind of like the story of temptation par excellence for Christians. We were taught that even Jesus himself was tempted by the bible-quoting devil and we were taught that he managed to overcome devil’s trap by quoting the bible in return. There you have it, the doctrine that we must read and memorize our scripture.
If you ask me Luke’s story is interesting because, Luke inverted the second and third temptations as compared to Matthew’s account. When he does that, and we all know that Luke was deliberately putting together well known stories of Jesus for someone important (Luke 1:3-4), we can be safe to say that he was trying to construct a message.
In Luke’s version, the first temptation was the devil asking Jesus to turn a stone into bread.
Devil: If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread
Jesus: It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone [but on every words that comes from the mouth of the LORD]” (Luke 4:3-4)
The second temptation was the devil leading Jesus up to a high place and showing him all the kingdoms of the world,
Devil: If you worship me, it will all be yours
Jesus: It is written, “Worship the LORD your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:7-8)
The third temptation was the devil leading Jesus to the highest point of the Jerusalem temple,
Devil: If you are the Son of God, jump down. It is written “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you carefully, they will lift you up, your foot will not touch a stone”
Jesus: It says, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test” (Luke 4:9-12)
The devil, as we can clearly see from the third temptation can quote the bible as well as Jesus if not better – he quoted longer verses. I think it is safe to say that Luke probably want to tell us, it’s no good just memorizing the bible or even being a bible expert.
But what interest us in this is the dynamics of the temptation. It was not mere allurement using money or sex, something of the usual stuff we link to “temptation” these days. It sounds cliché, but the devil is more subtle than that and the dynamics of temptation is more profound.
The tempter began with the most basic physiological need of a person, food and climbing up Maslow’s piramid, he offered power and then skillfully, a chance for Jesus to realize his mission as a god-sent messiah.
The devil is a master in psychology, he posed a challenge to Jesus on what it means to be a human being. It was not something out of the ordinary; no, the devil did not appear and offered a Faustian deal, giving us an out-of-this-world ability. Instead, it was something more down-to-earth (and that’s often dangerous because we will be looking somewhere else), he challenged the idea of our personhood, how we find fulfillment in life and the enjoyment of our being.
Jesus did turn stones into breads (Luke 9), he did claim, by deeds and words, to be god’s messiah-king, not least through his actions of judgement in the temple and most notably the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18). So these things in themselves, are not evil. There’s nothing evil in finding satisfaction in our lives and the enjoyment of our being.
These things, in themselves, are not evil but the devil knew they pose a potential threat to our humanity. Our problem begins when we decide that there is no other dimension to our self except being an “individual” and thus negating the others.
I believe the strength of Jesus’ response to the devil in the temptation story does not lie in his bible-quoting but rather in his awareness of the “relational” dimension of our personhood. In other words, he was aware that to be human is to be relational.
He realized that “no man is an island”, because if we are created in the image of god who exist in an eternal fellowship of Three, then we are made to communicate, to embrace, to interact, to relate to god if not to one another, though I strongly believe to one another as well because, if someone cannot “love his brother whom he sees, how can he love the god whom he cannot see?” (1 John 4:20).
The rejection of the others is but a symptom of our rejection of the ultimate Other. To deny our relational dimension is to deny our own humanity. This is not only disfiguring the image of god in us, but it is also self-destructive.
Sin comes in when we reject the others in search of the fulfillment of our being. Money, power and sex become evil when we enjoy them individualistically, independent of, and denying and negating the joy of others in the process.
Indeed loving god and embracing god includes loving and embracing people, “you’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:21, The Message).
Originally posted in Steven Sim’s blog. Republished with permission.