The first day of Lent shoves us into the solitary wilderness of temptations. Who else but Jesus could report on these struggles, since he was in this desolate place by himself? One main function of the season is its call to self-reflection, where our strengths and weaknesses are laid bare.
When we are by ourselves, there is no one else to fool but ourselves. In the places where we hunger and thirst, our capacities and character rise to the surface. Temptation in the context of this chapter is synonymous with testing, those moments when we press theory against practice to determine if the “product” will survive.
The first challenge, under the privation of many days without food, was to assess whether he would use his power mainly to care for himself. Would his skills be employed mainly through the “magic” of shortcuts (stone to bread)? Would such powers mostly be engaged in self-serving purposes?
The enemy he faced was within himself. Again, why not indulge oneself in the acquisition of possessions and power? Could greed and self-indulgence trump the power he already owned? (“All these kingdoms will be yours, if you will only surrender principles and purposes.”)
The next struggle was apparently a measure of his discovered skills (at a wedding in Cana?). Why not leap without looking and make a spectacular attraction of yourself? (Or, a spectacle of yourself?) Each wooing invitation forged a personal opportunity for defining self— how he would choose to live.
We too are tested daily by the seduction of the selfish, the immediate, the acquisitive, and the superficial. In the wilderness of plenty we can easily believe the lie that focusing on self, or acquiring possession and power, or entertaining ourselves—will fill the void inside. We understand and confess that our idolatry of self, of things, of power, and of status have often controlled our life.
He also understands. He was here. He heard the same voices. He just knew better. And he hopes we’ll know better because he was here. Temptations do not haunt us only where we are weak; they assail us also in our strengths.
Daniel G. Bagby