Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where 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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, …’
Luke 4:1-3; full lectionary gospel linked below:
Sunday March 10, 2019, Lent 1
If love has the last word, then why is the devil speaking?
Jesus has just been baptized with water from the river and with word from on high (Luke 3:21-22). Jesus is Son. Jesus is Beloved. Jesus pleases well. And Jesus, full of the Spirit, is led by that same Spirit into the wilderness, and there Jesus is tempted by the devil for 40 days. Jesus will be famished by the days’ end. How should this be?
‘If you are the Son of God,’ the devil prods. Is the phrasing a taunt, casting doubt on the prior experience, the wonder of blessing having given way to wilderness stress? Is the phrasing a challenge, ‘since you are …’* — testing the bounds of how that claim will be lived? Does the devil seek to cajole or to provoke?
In any case, why should Jesus be there, in the wilderness, accosted by such active, persistent, personal temptation? Why should the Spirit have led Jesus to this?
Or is this, yet again, what the Spirit does: makes plain what beloved-ness is, what blessing means, what inspiration leads us to see. Encounter with God necessarily requires encounter with neighbor. People are hungry — how shall they be fed? People search for meaning — where shall they find it? People long for community — how will they create it? The people are not pretend nor their needs imaginary. They are flesh and blood and desperately real. They are famished. As Jesus becomes.
Luke presents the test with a fable-like setting and pair. Jesus and devil both are well-versed in the written word of God and well-acquainted with the needs of the world. But the devil disguises the needs as a set of hypothetical tests, as if the claim of beloved-ness is proved in accurate quotation and pure speech. Jesus refuses the hypothetical. Jesus turns to the real. Jesus will not use the world to prove the Word but will live the Word to heal the world. Jesus — still filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:14) — will ‘return to Galilee’ and begin to teach and claim for himself Isaiah’s anointing to ‘bring good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18). Isaiah the prophet who, seeing God in glory, saw himself and his people with new-opened eyes (Isaiah 6:1-5).
We cannot see God without seeing our neighbor. And maybe, when we truly look to see and hear and love our neighbor, we will find that we have learned to see and hear and love our Lord.
I am not strong enough to pray that the Spirit may lead me into the wilderness. But I can at least pray to see and hear and love more fully, more truly, even knowing that wilderness will occur. And I pray that when I know myself there, the Spirit will remind me — yet again — that this new sight is the meaning of ‘beloved,’ reassure me that the Spirit is leading me through, and revive in me the conviction that the Spirit will fill me and use me toward the healing of the world.
*The Greek can be read either way.