Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth, chapter 2, "The Temptations of Jesus"

This chapter offers some amazing insights into the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. Instead of trying to overview each of the temptations here (partly because I'm limited on time and partly because I don't want to over-quote), I'm just going to share a few insightful tidbits for your consideration (and hope that you'll consider reading the entire book!)...
The Letter to the Hebrews is particularly eloquent in stressing that Jesus' mission, the solidarity with all of us that he manifested beforehand in his Baptism, includes exposure to the risks and perils of human existence: "Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb 2:17-18). "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15)
There are two other great narratives concerning bread in Jesus' life. The first is the multiplication of loaves for the thousands who followed the Lord when he withdrew to a lonely place. Why does Christ now do the very thing he had rejected as a temptation before? The crowds had left everything in order to come hear God's word. They are people who have opened their heart to God and to one another; they are therefore ready to receive the bread with the proper disposition. This miracle of the loaves has three aspects, then. It is preceded by the search for God, for his word, for the teaching that sets the whole of life on the right path. Furthermore, God is asked to supply the bread. Finally, readiness to share with one another is an essential element of the miracle.
Whenever I watch the movie The Miracle Worker (about Helen Keller) - particularly the old one - one scene especially reminds me of how God uses the things of this world (and particularly our needs) to bring us to him. The scene is when Annie Sullivan convinces the parents to let her taken Helen to a little cabin alone for several weeks so that she will have to learn to rely upon Annie and thus become more receptive to her teaching endeavors.
The whole conversation of the second temptation takes the form of a dispute between two Bible scholars. Remarking on this passage, Joachim Gnilka says that the devil presents himself here as a theologian.
The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.

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