As we began Lent this Sunday the Gospel reading at All Saints Church was the familiar record of Jesus temptations. A few thoughts. First, the text says that Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. I always imagined that, after his baptism, Jesus decided to go on a long fast, and he happened to meet the devil. We should rather think that Jesus did no such thing. The Spirit drove him. In a sense, Jesus is a passive participant who probably had no idea how long he would undergo this experience. Viewed this way, we understand that from his point of view, the duration of the trial was an open question.
Second, Pope Benedict helpfully comments that the 40 days is a recapitulation of Israel’s own “open” journey in the wilderness, in which God’s people neither knew where they would camp, what they would eat, and how they would clothe themselves. Their trial is now, in miniature, that of Jesus. In this context we can better understand the demonic suggestion, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread…” Stones to bread recalls manna in the wilderness, of course, but a deeper insight is that Jesus’ divinity is put into question over the seemingly easy task of providing food for himself. Surely, if Yahweh did this in the Old Testament for two million people, Jesus could do it for himself. Since he was the Son of God, that’s awfully tempting, especially if he didn’t know exactly how long the fast would continue.
Third, Testing God in this manner is not so very far from our own human situation. How many critics of faith have you heard challenge the believer like this: If your God is so strong and so good, why doesn’t he just ____________? As I write this, I have prayed diligently for at least two persons over the last few months, persons who are in great affliction. One lingered in a coma and died. The other, suffering from an accident, makes incremental and painfully slow progress. I am tempted to say, “If you are the Son of God, command these -”
You get the point.
Finally, Jesus responds, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We live not only by the “good” words from God – the one’s we like – such as, “I will, be healed.” We live by every word, every intention, every dispensation of his Providence, much of which lies maddeningly beyond our knowledge and grasp. God’s refusal to act upon our suggestion that he turn our personal “stones to bread,” does not mean that he fails to love us, or that he refuses to help us. It simply means that he is asking us to trust. That is exactly what Jesus did. We are called to live and walk by faith, even if it means to struggle.
It’s a hard lesson, but some things are more important than sickness and death. Can you trust God for that?