The Temptations of Life

After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.-Matt 4:1-11

Like most people, I was hooked on the series, Breaking Bad, for a while at least. For those who don’t know what I am talking about, Breaking bad is a series about a high school teacher, Walter White, who was the epitome of an average guy with regular family and work issues until he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Then he decided to do something radical. He used his talent as a gifted chemist to manufacture methamphetamine to be sold illegally. His primary reason for doing this was to ensure that his family would be financially stable when he dies. Eventually, his cancer went into remission, unfortunately by this time, he had bigger problems than his cancer. He became addicted to power and wanted to become a powerful drug kingpin. I heard an interview with one of the main actors in the series and he was amazed to find the number of people rooting for Walter White regardless of what he had done. I think it is because people can identify with Walter White. He is a family man who looked out for his family. This appears to be a noble cause but appearances can be deceiving. I was reminded of the story of Walter White when I reflected on the gospel text for this week (Matthew 4:1-11).

I have read the story of the temptation of Christ countless times. I often read it as if it was something Jesus experienced in a mystical way and had very little to do with our practical existence. However, for some reason, it hit me today that this story is really about our day to day practical living.

In the New Testament times, cities were a safe place and the desert was a place where you were left unprotected. It was not a place of retreat, but a place of confrontation with brutal forces of nature. Jesus went into the wilderness to reflect on the harsh reality of life. In the wilderness, all the facade of life fades away and you are faced with the Truth. In the face of Truth, a decision awaits each of us. Jesus waited for years before he went into the wilderness. You need some preparation to face the harsh Truth of life. Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared when entering the wilderness. Some are pushed into the wilderness too soon and forced to make decisions without any understanding and wisdom like the homeless children in our ministry. Some try their best to avoid the wilderness. They choose to live their lives on the surface where it is safe. Unfortunately for these, they will never experience Life.  The wilderness is not an option. We have to go through the wilderness if we want to live an abundant life. We have to go into it prepared to face the devil. The devil waits for us in the wilderness.

I just want to focus on the first temptation in this posting. It is the most reasonable temptation. Jesus was hungry and he had the power to transform stones into bread. So, why not do it?

The answer to this question is that which separates us from the world. If we believe that God is God, then God needs to be real in our everyday situation. If we believe that God is good, then we need to trust His goodness in our everyday existence. If our faith in God does not inform our everyday decisions, then it is pretty much useless. Faith becomes nothing more than a theoretical exercise. In the wilderness, we decide what kind of God we want to trust. Jesus thought that it was pointless to trust in a theoretical God in our harsh reality. He trusted in the living God who is present in His life in a real way.

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The very notion of a God who speaks is to show us that God acts in our lives. God’s words are synonymous with actions. His speaking reveals that He speaks into our reality. He is a personal God. This is the part that most good people (agnostics and otherwise) have a hard time with. We need faith to see God acting in our very existence. The devil wants to reduce God into something theoretical. He is quite successful. In this world, we have many theoretical theists and practical atheists.

Many, if not all, of the homeless children and adults have faith in a doctrinal God. A God who watches over them but is helpless to help them transform their existential situation. This God is not worthy our adoration because he is not active in our reality. The God of Jesus is a God who acts in our reality. Jesus did not need to abuse the power He was given to get what He wanted.  Those who use scripture and religion to get what they want do not believe in the God of Jesus. In order to believe the God of Jesus we have to trust that He will act. Not in a whimsical way. He acts in the harsh reality of our lives. It is not easy to trust in this God. The devil offers an easy way out. This is always the choice offered in the wilderness; the easy way to self-destruction or the hard way to abundant life where we see God in action.