And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.-Luke 4:4
I don’t know why I chose this text to meditate upon. In a sense, I did not choose it but it chose me. I am reading the gospel of Luke for my personal devotion and this text appeared to be relevant not only to my personal life but also to our ministry. We have moved to a new stage in our relationship with the children. They have become our children. We have adopted them but not in the traditional sense. They do not want a family in the traditional sense. The Holy Spirit is moving in our hearts to become the kind of family that is most fitting for the understanding of the gospel. One of the things that a family should do is to prepare the children to live in the world. I found the temptation of Jesus as the first step towards a better understanding of the world we live.
The temptations reveal two distinct world views and they are not compatible with each other. These temptations are a symbolic representation of the temptations Jesus faced throughout His life. There was never a moment where he was free from these temptations. Those who want to live full and complete lives have to confront these temptations. Our children living in the streets need to confront these temptations; we need to confront these temptations. No one is exempt. The answers Jesus gives are scandalous not only to the devil, but to the world. The arguments of the Devil have the appearance of wisdom, but only if we live according to the standards of this age. We need to move beyond the worldly wisdom to understand the way Jesus lived in this world.
Jesus was hungry. This overlooked detail is the premise of the whole text. He was hungry not because of lack of planning on his part but due to a spiritual exercise of fasting and prayer. It wouldn’t be wrong for him to reward Himself and use His power to transform stones into bread. The devil was not asking Jesus to do something immoral. It could even be considered as a prudent use of his powers. This temptation is not restricted to Jesus. It is an universal temptation. Naturally none of us have the power to turn stone into bread. However, we have gifts and resources given to us by God. As Christians, the very first thing we need to acknowledge is that nothing we have comes to us by our own merit. We can argue that we have gained things by our own hard-work but the situations and circumstances to make this possible are given to us by God. If we claim that something belongs to us and only us, then we are not really a Christian.
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee-
1 Chr. 29:14
The first temptation is about using the resources God has given us to satisfy our own needs. The devil’s argument is simple. He wanted Jesus to take care of Himself first and then He can use His powers to do God’s work. This argument comes in many shapes and forms. We should use all our resources to take care of our own family first before helping others. We must think about our own neighborhood first before reaching to others beyond our borders. The list can go on and on. All the arguments end with the results. God gets the leftovers after we have served ourselves. On the other hand, It is hard to argue against this reasoning because it makes sense. Jesus did not try to argue his way out of it. He plainly set forth another principle that is superior to this argument and mindset. His answer distinguishes humanity from the rest of animal kingdom. Jesus simply responded, “Man does not live on bread alone.”
Bread is a symbol of our physical sustenance. Humanity does not live and function only for its physical needs. Animals act according to their physical needs. Even among them, some are able to go beyond their basic needs and we adopt them as pets mainly because this trait. It is our human tendency to identify this in animals and yet many times we ourselves fail to act beyond our basic needs. It is not our human nature to base everything on our physical needs. This does not mean that we neglect our physical needs. Jesus did not do it. He enjoyed Himself, maybe a little too much according the Pharisees (Luke 7:34). However, our needs should not define how we use our God-given resources and talents in this life.
The things we consider as needs or necessities in our society might be luxury in another. This does not mean they are not necessary. In most developed countries, internet access is a necessity. People might miss job opportunities if they don’t have access to internet services. It is not a frivolous accessory by any means. It is important but it is not essential. However, if fulfilling our needs becomes our priority in life, then we will never get out of the desert and discover the world that the gospel impels us to go and discover. If needs are the only priority, then the drug dealers in impoverished neighborhoods are justified in engaging in criminal activities because this is the only way to meet their needs, well at least according to them.
Many things can be done or left undone by using this argument. The world thinks that no one should be deprived of what they consider to be basic needs. However, there is no clear understanding of what we really need in this life to be fully human. Jesus wasn’t concerned about filling his stomach. He was interested in living an abundant life. In other words, He was interested in being fully Human.
The gospel of Matthew gives a more complete answer to the argument of the Devil. Jesus says that man lives on every word that comes from God’s mouth. I started this post saying that the Spirit is moving us to a ministry of adoption. However, it is not an altruistic motivation on our part to do this. It is a participation in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We cannot impose adoption on the children. They have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as well. They have to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The author of Matthew’s gospel distinguishes the living word of God from any reduced concept of it. It states that humans live on the living word that comes from God’s mouth. It is the living word of God that gives us the strength to overcome the lies of the world trying to rob our humanity. St Paul tells us that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’.”(Galatians 4:6) The world has no access to our hearts. The devil cannot speak to our innermost being. God speaks eternal truth that transforms the way we understand the world.
Jesus listens to the living words of God and it becomes contagious. People were drawn to Him because He lived by every word that came out of God’s mouth. Our children realize that they are adopted when they meet people who believe that God has adopted them. Jesus made tax collectors and fishermen look deep into their souls and discover their true calling. Those who live by every living word that proceeds from God’s mouth motivate others to listen to this voice as well. Thankfully, God speaks to those who are willing to listen but we need to first discern that there is another voice in this world as well. It is a lifelong journey of discerning the false wisdom from the life-giving words of our God.