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Devotional Thoughts on Matthew 4:1-11

by on September 14, 2009

This is Matthew’s version of the temptation of Jesus, a story that obviously has more catechetical than historical value. If it actually happened, Jesus must have reported it to his disciples to teach them, and they us, something. What’s the lesson?

Like Jesus, we face three paradigmatic temptations. The first is to self-sufficiency. Another version is self-reliance. Especially cultivated in America, this temptation to make something of nothing is powerful because there is truth in it. This is true of all temptation—the more like truth, the more powerful. We are creative beings made in God’s image and co-creators with God of our own lives. This temptation is to forget that partnership and to go it alone.

The second temptation naturally follows Jesus’ successful overcoming of the first one. We are tempted to rely totally on God, being careless or reckless with our lives, neglectful of the opportunities each of us uniquely has to do good and right in the world. It is basically the temptation to irresponsibility.

The third temptation is the catch all. We are enticed to worship anything but God. It is commandments 1 and 2 of the Ten. I’ve not been tempted by the “Devil” (as the story goes). But I’m constantly beset with the same temptation: idolatry.

Karl Barth interpreted the Incarnation as God’s giving us the power to overcome our pride (temptation 1), and the Resurrection as God’s giving us the power to overcome our sloth (temptation 2). Jesus’ Ascension draws our gaze “upward” towards what transcends us. These are the fundamental challenges of being human: staying in partnership with God, and keeping the partnership in right perspective.

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