A little Latin in the title… got to go steady as I could get quite excited about my linguistic abilities! Anyway, back to earth, and that is the real point about this post: the temptations of Jesus take place not simply on earth but they are located in three different specific situations. The order that the temptations are reported differ slightly in Matthew and Luke, with the latter two switching order (Matt. 4:1-11; Lk. 4:1-12). The first in the sequence they both agree on, that of economic temptation and it takes place in the wilderness. I term it economic but it is wider than that – it is the quick escape from the trouble one is in with personal economic benefit. Work – something that Scripture defines at its core separate to economic issues – was a creation mandate before and after the fall. The temptation is that of personal and wider benefit through an exploitation of creation that does not involve (biblically-defined) work. Biblically-defined work is not centred on monetary benefit – that is present in some aspects but not at the core.
It takes place in the wilderness, the god-forsaken place, the unfruitful place, the place of testing (where God tests us… and we put God to the test!). Jesus quotes Scripture in reply to the devil:
Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The clothes on your back did not wear out, and your feet did not swell these forty years. Know, then, in your heart that, as a parent disciplines a child, so the Lord your God disciplines you (Deut. 8:2-5).
The connection of the forty days in the wilderness and the forty years is clear. The spies who went into the land and the majority came back with a negative report were present in the land for 40 days – as a result Moses said that the people would be in the wilderness for forty years. That process of being in the wilderness was to:
- humble them
- test them so as what was in the heart was revealed
- to demonstrate that God would provide for them
SO THAT (and here we come to Jesus’ quote) they might know that bread was not the provision for life but God’s word to them on an ongoing basis.
We need bread, and are taught to pray for provision of bread for each day, but to set our hearts on basic provision when there is something much higher to go for. (I appreciate where there is real physical hunger and famine that a focus on bread for today is not wrongly placed. That is not the audience in mind with the Gospel stories.)
I label this temptation as economic – it is also into exploitation of resources without appropriate labour. Stones to bread is the start of an inappropriate business supply. It is not uncommon that those who set their vision toward ‘business’ will find themselves in the desert and with offers to progress that involve compromise. The economic is to humble, test and to find faith in the goodness of God with provision.
The second temptation (Luke’s order) is regarding political power. I have written in a previous post that the use of the term oikoumene has to be understood as the offer of the Imperial structures of the day being colonised to serve God! There is something so incompatible about Imperial rule (the top elite who promise blessing to one and all (who comply) but the flow of resources is in reality back to the ones at the top) and the work of the kingdom that comes to honour the least and the last.
This temptation takes place at the top of a high mountain. Beware of mountains! They might give sight, but we have to be careful what we do with what we see, and Jesus’ work was to raise the valleys and bring down the mountains.
Power to be and authority over the works of the enemy are the kingdom connection of power and authority; power to implement and authority over people is the parody used by Imperial structures.
The quote from Jesus (Deut. 6:13) is in the context of (I paraphrase) ‘once you were slaves, do not forget when you are no longer slaves and you have resources that you move away from the God who sets prisoners free. God’s focus in on those who are enslaved… do not enslave others’.
The third temptation takes place in the Temple – the religious sphere. Jesus suggests that if we respond to accolades in the religious house that we are putting the Lord God to the test (Deut. 6:16).
Some people focus on one of the above spheres – economic, power or religion. Jesus was subject to all three temptations, for Imperial rule will pull all three together. Backed by ‘divine’ authority / right (even when a regime is ‘atheistic’ this is present with the transcendent right of ‘no god’… but usually considerably more sinister when a belief in ‘god’ is present) there is a system of rule that will bring about a distinct divide between those who have and those who don’t: economic oppression. The wilderness we are tested; the mountain we are open to lust; and in the Temple we can domesticate god to be our servant.