Monday, July 16, 2018

Luke 4:1-13

Books have been written about these few verses, with good reason. I remember many years ago being part of a men's group reading Donald Kraybill's The Upside-Down Kingdom that used these temptation stories as a way to get inside how Jesus turns this world's systems and expectations on their heads.

An older man whom I deeply respect talks about how Jesus addresses the three main spheres of life -- economic (bread), political (kingdoms), and religious (temple) in refusing Satan's enticements, and how this temptation story shows Jesus' holiness and lordship over all the main realms of human life.

There's lots here to ponder.

One of the things I've wondered about in this story over the years is the timing of it, hard on the heels of Jesus' baptism and God's pronouncement that "you are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Though there's no definitive way to answer this, I've wondered many times what was going on for Jesus in this moment. Did Jesus at his baptism receive a complete sense of his own identity and his mission? I've come to believe this is true. No doubt (especially given Luke's retelling of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple) Jesus prior to his baptism had an idea of his special relationship with God the Father, and he had probably heard Mary's stories of his miraculous conception and birth. I think, though, that it is in his baptism Jesus gets the fullness of his identity and mission from the Father through the Spirit that descends on him.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of this idea is that when Satan addresses Jesus and says "If you are the Son of God ..." the Greek grammatical construction doesn't imply doubt. Rather, it's a conditional clause that assumes the truth of what's said, sort of like a Minnesotan saying, "If the Vikings choke in the playoffs this fall ..." In fact, it's not going too far to translate Satan's suggestions as "Since you are the Son of God ..." And that makes me think Jesus has just learned the fullness of his own identity, and probably the trajectory of his mission that will lead to the cross. It's a lot to take in, and it makes sense that in that moment, Satan would step up with easier, less painful alternatives. Since you are the Son of God, why not use a little of your power to feed your body? Since you are the Son of God, why not receive these kingdoms from me rather than walk this hard road to the dubious victory of the cross? Since you are the Son of God, why not wow the Jewish people with a miraculous sign that will win you a mass of followers from the outset?

Jesus has been named. He has been given the fullness of his God-given identity. He knows himself as the beloved one, the Son of God. What will he do in this new identity? Will he walk the hard road to the cross? Or is there an easier alternative? It must have been a heady temptation, given the frothing anticipation of Jesus' people for their Messiah. What they hoped for was very much in line with Satan's temptations. Jesus recognizes the dangerous, diabolical nature of the easy road Satan offers.

We are often tempted to make Jesus more divine than the biblical texts allow. The temptation story is one of the most important moments for us to recognize the full humanity of Jesus; if we don't, we will not receive the value of Jesus' example for ourselves. Jesus has, as Hebrews states, been tempted in every way like we have, but was without sin.

So what about you? Have you been named -- by God, by parents, by those who love you -- not just with a name people can call across the parking lot but with an identity, with a deep sense of who you are, with a sense of your unique giftedness, calling, mission? And if you have this deep sense of yourself that has been bestowed on you, how will you pursue that unique mission, that one-of-a-kind contribution God has designed for you to accomplish in his good creation? There will always be wide gates and broad, paved pathways that beckon. There will be ways that offer the comfort of self-indulgence, the compromise of selling your soul to gain the world, the people-pleasing choices that enhance your own status but don't really direct people to the character of God.

In the end, that's what drives Jesus' rejection of Satan's careful biblical quotations. Jesus chooses to align himself with the Father's character, even though it might cost him discomfort, personal pain, and disapproval of the masses.

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