Temptations: Challenge to Pastoralia
“It sometimes seems to us that life is nothing but a series of temptations. Generally, when we speak about temptation two biblical stories come to our mind- firstly, the temptation at the Garden of Eden, which led to the fall of humankind and the second the temptation of Jesus that led to the fall of Satan. The narrative (Mathew 4:1-11) is closely related to the preceding narrative of the baptism of Jesus. This connection is found in the key term of this narrative, “God’s son” in v.1. Does the Son exhibit qualities such as trust, obedience, faithfulness that are of God’s son, Israel? Indeed, in this passage we encounter a most interesting parallel with that of the experience of Israelites in the wilderness. The parallel is heightened by the fact that all of Jesus’ answers to the tempter are drawn from Deuteronomy 6-8, the very passage that describes Israel’s experience in the wilderness. This account is placed here deliberately because it serves as an important prolegomenon to the ministry of Jesus.
In facing these temptations, Jesus pioneered a path for us to follow to reach fullness of life, one in which he encountered evil and was victorious over it. This pericope is also found in Luke with four variations and is thus regarded as derived from the Q source. Both the narration has a common pattern: (a) the setting; (b) the words of Satan; (c) the response of Jesus. The spiritual reality in this narrative can be understood by not necessarily believing that there is an individual called the devil or Satan, rather, the focus is, what are we tempted by?
Temptation: Attain Personal Needs by using Privileged Position (Mt. 4:2-4)
Temptation strikes us when we are weak. It came to Jesus when he was hungry. In v. 3 he is asked by the tempter to turn the stones into bread. A tricky plan to use his powers to bring comfort to his body, to use his unique relationship to God as magic wand for his earthly needs. Since there is nothing intrinsically sinful about turning stones into bread, the meaning of the temptation must be explored more deeply. The fundamental understanding of this particular testing of Jesus is the realization that the fasting and hunger are, at this stage, is the will of the father for the son. To turn the stones into bread would be in effect to refuse God’s will and would involve a disobedience that would deny Jesus’ sonship. But the more significant question is this: shall Jesus exercise his messianic power in a way that avoids difficulty and pain or shall he accept the path of suffering (death) that is his father’s will?
Jesus answers the command of the devil with an OT quotation from Deuteronomy. Bread is necessary for life but the words “not by bread alone” throws us the question, is bread alone sufficient? Jesus in John 4:34, said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his will” and here he submits to that will. Jesus serves as a paradigm for the church and we are called to forsake the world. To forsake is not to hate or to reject it. It is not to turn from material goods- food, drink, clothing- and become an ascetic; instead, it is to recognize that not all this world’s goods will satisfy us. Jesus himself rejected the use of his privileged relationship with God to get material goods since he knew that it would not satisfy him.
How are we using our privileged position as a pastor? One of the major criticisms pastors face is the mishandling of Church funds and properties. Incidences that prove this are many, which we are aware of and some were even caught and convicted. I would like to share one incident, which affected me recently: a year ago, we went for the finance campaign from our college as a team and visited more than 15 churches in a particular area. In many churches, even the poor people contributed generously out of their poverty for the sake of theological education and in some, they assured to donate in the following week. After finishing the work, we all gathered in the area headquarters and the area chairperson took all the collected money from our hands and said he will return everything after collecting from other churches as well. So far, the money has not reached the College. I am not saying that the person has taken it for his/ her pocket. But where is the basic honesty? If church leaders are like this, how can we be a model for our congregation?
Another incident where after the harvest festival, the office bearers were arguing among themselves on who would get to take an offertory cover of a particular family. The pastor, who was newly assigned to that parish, observing all these things asked, “How can you play with offertory money”? The immediate response was, “you don’t say this to us, we know how the previous pastor flicked the church money.” Not only this, even privileged positions are used to recommend unqualified candidates for higher studies and jobs and in this process lot of diocesan institutions which were founded by the dedication of missionaries has lost its vision and coming to the level of closure. Therefore, friends, let us be aware of the temptation which triggers us to mishandle our privileged position.
Temptation: Acknowledge the God’s Power only in terms of Success and Security (5-8)
It is interesting that after Jesus responds with a quotation from Scripture, the devil introduces the second temptation by using Scripture itself. This is surely a way in which we can be led into evil and justifying it by using the Bible and would say, “what I am doing is right, for the Bible says it so.” Romans 13:1, “let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” was used to justify obedience to Hitler, in spite of his appalling persecutions. The devil sugared the verses of Scripture and served it to Jesus who replied by quoting another passage of the scripture and showed how we are to interpret the Bible. At first, Jesus is commanded by devil to provide food for himself- to save himself by exercising his messianic power. Here, by contrast, he is commanded to put himself in mortal danger and to force God to save him. It is important to note that the test involves a jump to safety i.e. to rescue by God and not to destruction. By refusing to jump Jesus chooses the path of continuing danger and hardship.
We would be living in a fantasy world, if events were not allowed to follow their natural course simply because we made an appeal to God when we feel threatened. The inevitability of human misery can help us start to discover ourselves, to discover what we are and where we are. Reliance on the false religious claims that promise us escape from dangers and suffering, can close us off from an encounter with the reality of God. Sometimes the only way these cover-ups can be taken away from our sight is for us to suffer. We then learn that it is in this kind of world, a world with danger and no immunity from it, that we are to learn to find God, to trust God, and to recognize his love.
We sometimes make our security a test of God’s reality or of his love and assume that if there is a God, he must protect and care for us. Jesus did not call on God to get him out of dangers even on the cross when his enemies wait to see if God would rescue him, and they taunt him he does not call out for help. In the garden of Gethsemane he does not ask his Father to deliver him from an ordeal and in particular from the ordeal of the cross. He is confident of his Father’s love even when he is undergoing suffering. The love of God is to be understood not apart from human suffering, but by openly facing suffering. Our very “religiousness” may keep us from facing suffering. God is not a means to our ends.
The Post-match interview of Darren Samy, after T20 world cup went viral. He said “ours is a praying team” and “God has given victory.” With much enthusiasm, messages were being forwarded saying that West Indies won because it is Christian team. But team India has also beaten such teams like West Indies, Australia, England on several occasions. Does this mean that God was not on their side during those time? We all believe that God listens to our prayers but giving us success and safety are not the only criteria for experiencing God’s providence.
Pastors face this situation too. People ask: If you are a powerful servant of God- heal my sickness, prophesy about my life, speak in tongues, construct a big church, increase the monthly offerings, membership etc. One of my friends asked me, whether the Bible teaches to deceive others and build churches. I asked him, why? He replied, “While church construction takes place, pastors come to my shop and purchase lot of things for debt promising that they would return it within a couple of months. But they do not and they very well know that they are going to get transferred very soon. Their only intention is to finish the construction and take credit for that without understanding the difficulty of people like us.”
Our trust in God must not have vested interest such as protection and security. It must not look at the good things of life, and ignore the bad. A pleasant nature can also turn into storms, earthquakes and drought. Thus Paul can write that nothing can separate us from the love of God- neither famine nor sword, sickness nor death (Romans 8: 31-39).
Temptation: Acquire Power through false worship (9-10)
The main clause in the third testing by the devil contains a promise stating, “I will give you all these things.” Therefore, the conditional clause that follows, involves an actual condition to be met. The devil offers all the kingdom of the world. But God has already promised the messianic king, the son of God by promising, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps. 2:8; 72: 8; Rev. 11:15). The devil offers him something within his rights (28:18), but at the cost of idolatry saying “if you fall down and worship me.” The question centres on a choice between the will of Satan or the will of God, which involves implicitly the rendering of worship to the one or the other.
Satan places before Jesus the glittering grandeur of the Kingdoms of this world and hopes to attract him. Evil may not show itself for what it is but instead appear as something attractive and desirable. Once five of us, “all utcians” crossed a Jaguar car showroom and started discussing about the price of the car. One of us said, “If I have to get into such a car either I have to become a Bishop or bishop’s chaplain.” This is how power lures us.
Jesus faces the ultimate political temptation for world rule. However, he understands that getting to power is not the answer; instead, unqualified submission and obedience to God is required to do anything good. Jesus turns his back on the possession of worldly power and clings toward the service of God. Power based on evil disintegrates. Sometimes getting to power by doing evil is justified by the good results of being in power. Yet this expedient never works, because the consequences of wrong remain destructive and the end is always compromised and twisted by the sinner who wills it. Jesus does not take the shortcut, the quick route to power and control. The only true political response is to bow before God and obey God. But in today’s world all tricks and shortcuts are applied to somehow get into power and let us be aware of this also. American author Edward Abbey said, “Power is dangerous, it attracts the worst and corrupts the best.” It is also said by Hubbard, “Nothing unmasks a man like his use of power.”
Finally, in the narration the angels come not simply to minister to a faithful Israelite but to call special attention to the victory of the obedient son. The verse is thus symbolic of the true identity of the Son, which is again affirmed at this point. Theodore H. Epp said, “Lust is the Bud, Sin is the Blossom, and Death is the Fruit.” That is why it is important to nip temptation in the bud. It must be stopped before it can blossom into sin and death. We need material things but not by misusing our power and privileges, we need deliverance but bondage doesn’t mean God is not with us and we can attain power but not through crooked ways.