Today in churches all over the world Christians hear about Jesus being tempted mightily by the devil. He is in the desert, a dangerous place to be even if one is just thinking about the weather which can include wild variations in temperature. Add the possibility of dust storms and no access to water if you’re stranded with the sun beating down and it is no wonder that, after forty days, Jesus was severely put to the tests described by Luke’s gospel. The last sentence in that account surprised me though, and had me wondering this morning if I had ever heard it – I mean really heard it – before. Rather than just saying that after Jesus withstood all the temptations “the devil left him,” Luke says, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” (LK 4:13)
No matter how one perceives the account of the temptations in the desert (different in each of the synoptic gospels) especially regarding the devil as a personification of evil and/or struggle to choose the good, we still have 2,000 years of hindsight to intuit the outcome of such an experience for Jesus, the Christ. However, modern Scripture scholars have brought us back to a more balanced view of Jesus as “fully human, fully divine.” After centuries of theological study focused on the divinity of Jesus, we have been called in recent history to remember that Jesus was “like us in all things but sin” – a very comforting thought for those of us who struggle with small and larger temptations on a regular basis. Perhaps that’s the great majority of us.
Just that small prepositional phrase – “for a time” – set me on a path of reflecting this morning on a way to reframe the difficulties Jesus experienced on his journey to Jerusalem. How did he deal with the demands of the increasingly large crowds that he encountered? We have examples of his need to escape for some quiet, but do we ever think of him saying to himself something like: “I’ve got to get out of here! They’re driving me crazy!” before he “went up the mountain alone?” What was the depth of his disappointment with the people he chose for his disciples when they failed to understand what he was trying to say? Did the loneliness of that reality ever threaten his determination to continue the mission he so clearly understood? Was he similarly distressed by the way people treated each other sometimes? Was he ever tempted to give in to despair?
Thus, although I have been aware of the difficulties that Jesus encountered in his public life and how he must have suffered as he moved toward his final destiny, I’m not sure I have ever given serious consideration to the part “temptation” played in that suffering. I think I considered that his battle with that was taken care of and once he exited the desert his struggles never caused him to question or falter. Now I wonder. And I will continue, as I read the Lenten gospels, to think in new ways about the path of Jesus and perhaps find new comfort for my own encounters with temptation.