Complete readings here.
“All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Looking over the sermons-to-date (already nine!), I notice a certain proclivity towards the books of the Old Testament. That is likely because the OT is still quite unknown to me, full of odd prophets and strange miracles which I missed out on completely in my secular upbringing. Whereas one can hardly make it through any Hollywood movie these days without being smacked in the face by the New Testament.
What a joy, then, to open the USCCB page earlier this week and find the New Testament passage quoted above. This is the first passage I really felt I understood as a young man, or at least the first passage that made me WANT to understand it. I was fifteen or sixteen years old at the time, and like many young men I wanted desperately to be recognized.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.”
But recognition for me was not enough; while my friends held rock- and movie-star ambitions, I nursed a dream of becoming not just recognized but influential. I felt, God knows why, that I was in a unique position to show the world who it really was–to once and for all speak The TRUTH! And anyone who speaks The TRUTH! (as Hollywood teaches us) faces ever-more desperate situations and ever-stronger antagonists… they must hold on to that glowing ball of wisdom against all odds and enemies… until finally the hero must choose between his own Death and The TRUTH!… and of course our hero chooses– well, you get the picture.
So I turned to the Bible for guidance on what a young man with messianic ambitions should be doing with himself before, you know, standing on the mountaintop and promising awesome things to people who don’t have them. There’s very little information about Christ’s early life, however. Everything from the time of his angel-bedecked birth until about age 30, the Synoptic Gospels leave pretty much unmentioned. That is, except for this encounter with the devil.
If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
I find it appropriate to imagine that the encounter with the devil happens somewhere in his mid-20s, because this is when my peers and myself seem to have really encountered the devil for the first time. There is an innocence and optimism in youth which is forever changed after that first and sudden awareness of how truly awful life can be: whether it is the death of someone close to you, the brutality of unrequited love, or some other “loss of self,” the moment is the same for all of us: it is a moment of testing.
Jesus answered him…
‘One does not live on bread alone.’”
What is at stake is not our immortal soul, but that youthful optimism. The readiness to embrace life. When the devil tempts us to worship him, he tempts us to give up hope. But the wise among us will realize there are lessons in loss: namely, that there is more to life than the accretions of ego. There is more to life than these awful things happening to me, because there is more to me.
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.”
I think it is no small coincidence that Christ encounters the devil long before he begins his own ministry. The devil is, in this sense, the great motivator for Christ’s work. The Holy Spirit–that religious drive which calls to us, which makes me sit here at eleven o’clock typing desperately to beat the clock and turn my sermon in by Sunday night–that same motivation calls Christ to the desert. And there, in the heat of practice, he encounters the temptations of the ego: power over self, power over others, and power over God.
‘If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here,'”
While this battle often unfolds around those “loss of self” moments, it is a battle that we wage daily. I recently saw a theatre piece where a preacher called on the audience to battle inaction every day. The devil of the self is like this, for me. It is inactive, unattentive, passive. It is choosing to lose the energy of youth in favor of a more “realistic” worldview.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.
Find the devil in your life. Find where he’s convinced you to live on bread alone. Find that part of you that longs to feel the wind rush by your ears as you leap from the temple once and for all… then tell that devil where to shove it.
You’ve got living to do.