Friday, February 15, 2013

Lectionary Musings for February 17, 2013


Luke 4:1-13
`Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
 
This passage has always bothered me.  Jesus has been baptized and connected to the Creator through the Holy Spirit.  He is fully God and fully human.  How can God be tempted?  For help, I turn to the earliest version of this account which is Mark 1:12-13
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 

 In Mark, Jesus is tempted by Satan but we do not how or by what.  Satan is not the equal of God, waging war against him.  He is a minion of God or a symbol of evil.  The idea that God has a challenger to his power is not found in Judaism but in other religions if the region. I will admit that I do not believe in personified evil.  That does not mean I do not believe in evil, but I believe evil is man's creation. Satan was simply a convenient descriptive mechanism in the story that emphasizes its mythic properties.

How do we know about the time in the wilderness?   Jesus must have told of his experience. I contend that Mark accurately recalls what Jesus told his followers. Jesus did not share the nature of the temptation, a temptation only God could face,  The temptation was to be the warrior deliverer of Israel, the Messiah expected by all, the king of Israel that would rule the world.  If he resisted the temptation of power, he would be the suffering servant of Isaiah.  Jesus chose love.  He turned his back on triumph and chose the path of the humble. He would face the temptation again in the Garden of Gethsemane.  His choice there led to the cross.  His followers would not comprehend his choice until his resurrection.  

What of the temptations in Luke? They are neatly designed to illicit replies lifted from Deuteronomy.8:3, Deuteronomy 6:13, and Deuteronomy 6:16. I think that the original lack of specific temptations was remedied by reference to passages from the Old Testament. I suspect that these temptations were widely circulated among believers (we know there were sayings of Jesus in circulation before the gospels were written). That does not lessen what we can learn from these temptations and their answers, but I will leave that to commentaries. Matthew and Luke simply added what they believed to be true. Simple temptations with pat answers replaced the titanic choice between power and death.

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