Thought for the day
The days of spring lengthen and Lent echoes nature inviting us as well to a new springtime of faith. As in farming and gardening, there is work to be done if new growth is to flourish or even to happen at all. We have to look back and see what has done well and what has, in effect, died off. We need to make space by clearing the ground and looking at ourselves honestly. It would be good to identify what will feed and sustain us during this journey from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the new birth of the Easter.
In this springtime, creator God, we watch new life appear from the dark earth after the night of winter. Help us also to grow. In us, there is darkness and night; yet we know that you can bring us once more to life. Amen.
Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Luke 4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Luke 4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The temptation in the wilderness is found in the three Synoptic Gospels: (Matt 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13). Mark’s version is very brief, whereas Matthew and Luke share a longer account. The order of Matthew’s second and third temptations (bread, Temple, kingdoms) is inverted in Luke (bread, kingdoms, Temple). Luke’s editing shows his literary gifts and his theological concerns. For example, he frames the temptations with “Son of God”, so that the identity of Jesus is the issue. Also, he focuses on Jerusalem, with a more natural movement from the wilderness to the Temple.
Kind of writing
In terms of ancient biography, we are still within the introduction to the story, that is, Luke 1-4. As part of the introductory material, the writer shows the “hero” undergoing “tests”, which are emblematic of and anticipate temptations during the ministry.
Cf. from the Fourth Gospel: Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” (John 4:31–32) When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15) After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (John 7:1–5)
Luke uses the story to continue his presentation of the identity of Jesus, this time as Son of God, as a Moses-type figure, surpassing the original.
Old Testament background
The three scriptural passages cited refer to trials of Israel during the Exodus.
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. (Deut 8:3)
The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. (Deut 6:13)
Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. (Deut 6:16)
New Testament foreground
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Heb 2:18) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
“Son of God” links the temptation to the birth story: The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:35). The title also makes a link with the crucial question at the trial before the Sanhedrin: All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” (Luke 22:70)
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7–10)
Verse 1 As usual in Luke, it is the Spirit who moves the events of salvation.
Verse 2 Forty is symbolic, indicating a complete cycle: the Flood (Gen 7:12); Moses on the mountain (Ex 24:18); the wilderness generation (Ex 16:35; Num 14:20-23); Nineveh is given forty days’ notice (Jonah 3:4); the risen Lord appears to the disciples for forty days after the resurrection (After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God [Acts 1:3]).
Verse 3 Compare: The leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one! (Luke 23:35–36).
Verse 4 Citation from Deuteronomy 8:3.
Verse 5 This happens at a spiritual level. Jesus has his own authority in this Gospel (Luke 4:6, 32, 36; 5:24; 7:8; 9:1; 10:19; 20:2, 8). Likewise, there was already “glory” at his birth: Luke 2:14. Cf. 9:26, 31-32; 21:27; 24:26.
Verse 6 The devil, as the father of lies, is lying, of course.
Verse 7 The ultimate reversal of what is right. Cf. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. (Luke 11:15, 18–19)
Verse 8 Citation from Deuteronomy 6:13.
Verse 9 Cf. One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us! (Luke 23:39–40)
Verse 10 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Ps 91:11)
Verse 11 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. (Ps 91:12)
Verse 12 Citation from Deuteronomy 6:16.
Verse 13 The opportune time (kairos) comes at the start of the passion narrative: Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve. (Luke 22:1–4)
Pointers for prayer
1. Jesus was led by the Spirit into what proved to be a wilderness experience. When you look back on times when you hit a low point, can you see the presence of the Spirit of God in some of them?
2. Jesus is on the verge of starting his public ministry. In the temptations we can see his struggle to say ‘yes’ to the mission given him by God. Perhaps some of your important decisions have been preceded by a time of anxiety and worry. What helped you to say ‘yes’ to risky but hope-filled invitations in your life?
3. Behind each of the devil’s invitations was a basic temptation to lose trust in God. How have you been tempted in this way? What helped you to hold on to trust in God?
4. One can enter into the temptations singly and ask:
- How have I been tempted to give priority to bodily needs and satisfactions?
- How have I been tempted to a selfish use of power?
- How have I been tempted to seek to be the centre of attention?
Lord our God, you alone do we worship only your word gives life. Sustain your Church on its Lenten journey. When we walk through the desert of temptation, strengthen us to renounce the power of evil. When our faith is tested by doubt, illumine our hearts with Easter’s bright promise.
We ask this through Christ, our deliverance and hope, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, holy and mighty God for ever and ever.