CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: The Temptations of Jesus
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
- Mark 1:9-15
Woah! That’s a lot for a few verses. In ONLY verse 13 we have 40 days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan, wild animals, and angels waiting on Jesus. Like a six-year-old who wants to tell you their side of the story, there is a lot to digest. But that’s Mark. He wastes no time in getting to the action. But it’s with Jesus being tempted that I’d like to spend a couple minutes.
Some temptations are suggested in the other gospels: hunger, power, riches. In Mark, Jesus hasn’t even spoken yet, and he’s engaged no less than Satan. Can we move past that tempting so quickly and easily? Should we?
I know me, and I know that I cannot put temptations aside in one-twenty-third of a verse, regardless of which verse of my life I’m looking at. I struggle. But it’s given to us as if, to this point, Jesus never struggled. But I’ll bet that is not the case. Struggling and succumbing are two different things.
When Mark opens, we’re already waist-deep in the action. Jesus is 30 or so years old, and maybe we’re to believe that he comes fully onto the scene at the flower of a spiritual maturity he’s had since birth. How can we compare to that?
But what about six-year-old Jesus? Was he tempted? When he was at his grandma’s house and he smelled his favorite food, did he want to eat, even when it wasn’t dinner time? That’s tempting. When he was a little older, Jesus was asked to help out with his chores when he’d rather run off with his friends; when Joseph needed some help, was he tempted to neglect his duties? When he was in his teens, had been bar mitzvah-ed and saw his friends were getting married, was there a temptation to do the same, to settle down? Tempting. But when Jesus shows up in Mark chapter one fully grown, can we imagine the temptations that he has already faced?
By the time we get to Mark 1:9, I’m willing to guess that a lot of temptation has already happened, and the fact that Mark can breeze through it so quickly must mean that Jesus is a “postdoc” as far as temptation is concerned. Me, not so much. I still struggle.
In her book Thoughts Matter, Sister Mary Margaret Funk writes about the practice of dealing with mindless thoughts, many of which start innocently enough but land us in rabbit holes or arguments or downright sinfulness. If we can get to the bottom of our thoughts, the origin of our thoughts, perhaps we can head them off at the pass before they come to full flower...at least the unhealthy temptation ones. Perhaps we can identify how our thoughts point toward the core of who we are. Perhaps we can figure out why and how we are broken so that we can avoid the biggest pitfalls that we encounter day to day - and with enough practice at awareness, maybe we can even avoid the small pitfalls, too.
For me, just one pitfall has been figuring out that I struggle to eat healthily because I love to eat when I am bored, anxious or depressed. And when I do eat in such moments, I want it to be sweet or salty or crunchy, so it takes my mind off my boredom, anxiety or depression (see also: Doritos). And lately there has been non-stop potential for boredom, anxiety and depression, I think you’ll agree. So, when I figure out what’s really going on and then I want to snack in this way, I choose differently and take a walk. Afterward I feel better in so many ways.
Realizing the root of that temptation helps me deal with it when it inevitably comes. It is a spiritual practice that yields massive rewards. The more of these temptations I discover, engage and overcome, and the more I understand the process of what tempts me, the stronger I become at overcoming whichever temptation when it arrives. And it regularly does - until it gets identified and tamed.
So, was Jesus ever tempted prior to Mark 1:9? And which were the hardest temptations for him to overcome? The truth is: We don’t know. But what we do know is that when Jesus was finally tempted, he was up to the challenge. When offered to be satiated by this world, with its power and riches, he said “no.” In other gospels he backed his stance with ready scripture. It is worth noting that more time spent in spiritual pursuits may make us stronger when facing and overcoming our challenges.
Until I become much better at it, however, I will keep praying that I am not led into temptation and/or that I am saved from the time of trial. I don’t need to be led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan; my present circumstances are wild enough. Perhaps I’ll try to better keep on top of this boredom snacking. I bet Jesus would have loved Doritos.... I think I’ll take a walk.
Collect for Lent 1
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Rev. Greg Brown is the rector of Holy Comforter, Charlotte.
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