"Christ lives, he has overcome death, he has overcome all these powers. We live in this certainty, in this freedom, and in this joy." (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 12 XI 2008)
"Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks the truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie." (Blessed John Paul II, Canonisation of Edith Stein, 11 X 1998)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lent Reflection: The Temptations of Christ in the Desert (Part 3)

The Second Temptation

When scripture is quoted and the text is not provided, please look to the bottom of the reflection for the text of the scripture.

Let us once again look at the text from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Mat 4:1-11 

(1) The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him. (2)  After Jesus had gone without eating for forty days and nights, he was very hungry. (3)  Then the devil came to him and said, "If you are God's Son, tell these stones to turn into bread.” (4)  Jesus answered, "The Scriptures say: 'No one can live only on food. People need every word that God has spoken.' " 

(5)  Next, the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest part of the temple. (6)  The devil said, "If you are God's Son, jump off. The Scriptures say: 'God will give his angels orders about you. They will catch you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones.' "  (7)  Jesus answered, "The Scriptures also say, 'Don't try to test the Lord your God!' " 

(8)  Finally, the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power. (9)  The devil said to him, "I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.” (10)  Jesus answered, "Go away Satan! The Scriptures say: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' "  (11)  Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him.



This second temptation is an interesting one. It also is a difficult one to understand. We see that the Devil himself is a Scripture Scholar! In essence, this theological debate between Jesus and the Devil is a debate concerning the image of God. “Who is God?” is the issue.

To provide a defence against the first temptation, Christ quoted Scripture. Seizing on the opportunity presented, Satan attempts to twist the Bible to his own ends. He quotes Psalm 91:11-12 verbatim. Jesus responds with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:16. Against this background, we can begin to examine the debate.

Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the Temple. This was the place where people would find God. He then tries to prompt Jesus into forcing God to prove He exists. He wants Jesus to put God to the test. This is why Jesus responds as he does. The quote from Deuteronomy is in response to the story in Exodus 17. The people where beginning to doubt that the Lord was with them. They wanted some miracle, some proof. Jesus recognises these intentions and refuses to allow Satan to fool him.

Let us stop for a moment. What is actually wrong with asking God for a little bit of proof. If we could prove in a scientific way that God existed, I am sure it would be a great help for each of us. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental problem here. Trying to subject God to testing in this way is arrogance. An arrogance that is incapable of perceiving God. When we try imposing out test conditions on Him, we place ourselves above him and then look for physical proof. It forces us to ignore the whole dimension of love. Modern man only believes that which he can test and grasp. This lack of openness to love and interior listening closes the way to God. It is impossible to find God by searching in this way.

We cannot ask God to prove He is God. We then put ourselves above him, and in doing so make ourselves God. We put ourselves in the position of judging the truth from lies. Satan in his use of Scripture is playing on this theme. He is attempting to put himself in God’s place. Once there he will decide the truth. Satan uses his quote as a stand-alone reference. In this way, he is assuming that God really has nothing to say to us in the Bible as a whole. He relegates the Bible to a tool for supporting any deed.

Jesus on the other hand provides a better model. He refuses to put God to the test. He knows that to do so would already exclude the openness to accept the proof. He is able to put the Psalm into a broader context. He knows that the quote provided by Satan does not refer to earthly comfort and protection. It is about a much deeper comfort, the confidence that he will receive comfort in eternity.

We see that the debate is about how we can and cannot know God. If we decide to try proving God’s existence, we already put ourselves in a position where this becomes impossible. How can you prove Love? However, if we accept the Love of God, then we will know God.



Bible verses forming part of the discussion, but not quoted above:

(Psalm 91:11-12)
God will command his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones.

(Deut 6:16)
…don't try to make him prove that he can help you, as you did at Massah.

(Ex. 17:1-7)
The Israelites left the desert and moved from one place to another each time the LORD ordered them to. Once they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for them to drink. The people started complaining to Moses, "Give us some water!" Moses replied, "Why are you complaining to me and trying to put the LORD to the test?" But the people were thirsty and kept on complaining, "Moses, did you bring us out of Egypt just to let us and our families and our animals die of thirst?" Then Moses prayed to the LORD, "What am I going to do with these people? They are about to stone me to death!" The LORD answered, "Take some of the leaders with you and go ahead of the rest of the people. Also take along the walking stick you used to strike the Nile River, and when you get to the rock at Mount Sinai, I will be there with you. Strike the rock with the stick, and water will pour out for the people to drink." Moses did this while the leaders watched. The people had complained and tested the LORD by asking, "Is the LORD really with us?" So Moses named that place Massah, which means "testing" and Meribah, which means "complaining."

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