"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)

Friday, 18 March 2011

Lent Reflection: The Temptations of Christ in the Desert (Part 4)

The Third 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.


The third temptation is the climax of this whole episode. When reading Holy Scripture we most always strive to keep the fullness of its Truth in mind. This is the only way to understand the truth.

In this temptation, Satan offers Christ all the physical power the world can offer. The catch is that Jesus must bow before the Devil. This is asking Jesus to forsake his mission, to give up God.

Is this not a small price to pay for such great influence? Could Jesus not, for just that moment, deny God? After all, if he had such worldly influence, then he would be able to convert the whole world to his message of Love. Seems like a very human response.

However, as we have seen from the other temptations, this view is totally incompatible with belief. It represents a belief in the world, not in God. It presupposes that the physical is more important than the spiritual. By its very nature, the decision to relegate God to come later is a rejection of God. This rejection precludes the ability to experience God. The mindset is incompatible with true belief.

The people are tempted in the same way later in the Gospels. This time the people must choose: Worldly power or God's Kingdom. We must look to the readings from Palm Sunday. At the trial of Jesus Christ, Pilate offers the crowd a choice between Jesus, called the Christ and Jesus Barabbas.

We need to delve deeper into this choice offered to the people. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read, “At that time a well-known terrorist named Jesus Barabbas was in jail. (Mat 27:16). We know from the context of the term used to describe Barabbas (here translated as terrorist) that Barabbas had been involved in an uprising against the ruling Romans. He was a “freedom fighter”. The form of his name also suggests he was the ruler of the group of insurgents (we recall Bar-Kokhba who was head of the Jewish force in the last great Jewish messianic war in 132AD). Jesus Barabbas therefore presents a Messianic figure: A political Messiah. The type of Messiah the Jews were expecting. One who would bring physical power.

The name Barabbas can be broken down to Bar-Abbas. This translates as “son of the father”. Ring a bell? We see in this story the clear choice between a political messiah who promises worldly power and a messiah who offers only a message of Love. The two characters juxtapose each other in all respects, but both claim the messiahship. Moreover, the people, offered the same choice as Jesus was in the Third temptation, choose worldly power. This choice is the human decision. This decision does not look to the Kingdom of God. We know that they chose wrongly. Are we too going to choose the wrong Kingdom to pursue? Do we answer as Christ did, or do we side with the crowd screaming, “We want Barabbas?” we want this world’s power.

Which "Son of the Father" do you choose?

THE END

Post script:
I would just like to discuss the “Kingdom of God” as used in the Gospels. The word used for “Kingdom” is not a noun. It is a verb! The Hebrew word is malkut; it means the active lordship of the king. We can say then that the Kingdom of God does not lie after death, but exists on earth when we allow Gods will to rule our lives.

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