Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Matthew 4: Temptation

"Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."
~Deuteronomy 6:4-5

When the prince of night came to Jesus, our Savior came very close to reciting Shema Yisrael.

Jesus awaited Satan in the desert wastes of Judea. Matthew includes the odd note that "after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry." Of course he was; who wouldn't be? That's where Satan enters, literally: the gospel's very next words are "The tempter came to him." Just maybe, Satan could ally the incarnate Son of God in rebellion against the Father. Surely Jesus was not so restrained as to have his stomach rumble for food? But he was - and we are called to the same judicious restraint.

The Israelites were not so restrained. Jesus answers the devil's second temptation, the call to fling himself from the temple, with "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." The quotation is partial; Deuteronomy 6:16 finishes with " the test, as at Massah."

Exodus 17 tells the story of Massah and Meribah, where the wandering Israelites in the desert could not restrain their thirst and grumbled to Moses. In Numbers 20, we read a fuller account of the story. God instructed Moses to speak to the rock; instead, he struck it twice with his staff. God in His mercy enabled water to gush forth, but the Lord told Moses [20:12] that he would be denied entry into Canaan for his disobedience.

If even Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, submitted to the tempter in the desert, who could withstand Satan's lies in the same place of privation, fifteen hundred years later? Only Jesus. Who knows and shares in the distress of our brothers and sisters who are hungry? Only Jesus. Who is our model when the world taxes our patience beyond our level of comfort? Only Jesus.

Tonight's prayer: Jesus, no power of hell or scheme of man could pluck you away from the purpose of your Father. You came face to face with Satan and prevailed. How petty and insignificant the rewards he offers us, compared to those he set before you - and yet how quick we are to grasp those empty promises. May you renew in us the strength to love our only Lord, the God of heaven and earth and our hearts. Amen.