The particulars of Jesus’s temptations in the desert 2000 years ago may not seem especially relevant to our time, but let us look at three contemporary situations.
First at the beginning of the pandemic, Father Grivowich suggested that we would know how we did morally during it by how well essential workers did financially. Although we praised low-wage high-risk workers who held our economy together when we needed them, he questioned if there would be permanent positive effects for them. He told us that if there was, we would have learned the value of every person and the nature of community; if not, then this would have been another nail in the coffin of human solidarity. It is too certain to tell and I presume that the results will be mixed, but I look at myself and my reactions are mixed as well. Although I am told that the rise in prices for Uber and Lyft rides has gone down some, has gone substantially to the drivers, when I’m honest with myself, I want them low. Again higher fees are mostly a minor annoyance for me, but can be a major help for the drivers and their families – a noble result – but I still want them lower.
The Devil taunted Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus was hungry and his desire for food understandable, yet Jesus was preparing himself for his ministry and was fasting for the common good. He responded, “One does not live by bread alone”. Comfort is a good thing, but not the only thing, and not at the expense of others. Many people have done very well financially during Covid, and what does this say about our values if we have not shared this bounty with people who have risked and suffered more than we did with much less recompense.
Second, priests are told to recognize that the people in our congregations are often not as well educated as we are. This is not true here: you are overall more educated than me. Many of you started preparing for higher education in pre-k and this is not unwarranted. When I was a dean – church dean – I wish to start a college prep program for members of our parishes whose needs were not being met in their schools, and I asked an expert if I should begin this as early as sophomore year of high school and even if and even though you’re wearing masks I can tell the smiles on your faces and you will not be surprised that when I asked an expert, she laughed and told me that was the latest to begin was seventh grade the latest to begin for college preparation is seventh grade and that’s probably too late. This is a valid concern and one must be addressed early.
Yet it can take on a life of its own and become an obsession driving out everything else. The effort to be accepted at the right school can suck the joy from a teenager’s life. The danger of any good thing is that it can be made to seem the only good thing. Satan today tells Jesus that he can give him all the power if he worships him. Jesus answered that you shall worship the Lord your God and Him alone shall you serve. When what one serves is what one worships, are we showing by our actions that we worship success, prestige and good credentials more than God? If we worship God would we be more concerned with human community and justice? This is particularly dangerous in our time. The “spiritual but not religious” may have a faith that is at least or was at least directed to God, but with no liturgy to form their worship, they can slip into the most amazing errors a true value if put before Jesus becomes a false God.
Third, Vietnam was the first war we saw on television every night at 7 pm. It was the great educational experience of my generation. Ukraine is a war that we will experience in real time on our phones. We will know far more than we thought possible about it, but I don’t think it will ever make sense if we look for concrete reasons why it started. Ukraine is neither a military nor financial threat for Russia. They share much the same cultural and are racially and religiously similar.
It’s been observed that people go to war most often for intangible reasons. Rarely is a war begun for financial advantage or to deflect a direct threat to the nation. The earliest philosopher of war in the West held that wars are fought more for pride, honor, and self-perception than gain that can be touched or counted.
So Satan led Jesus to jerusalem and stood him on the parapet of the Temple and said to him if you are the son of God throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “he will command his angels concerning you to guard you.” He assumes that Jesus is as proud as he is and can be manipulated by that pride. He would not wish to seem weak and would need to prove himself. Yet Jesus knows who he is. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”.
The utterly secure can withstand any temptation; the insecure can be overwhelmed by a whim. Much pain derives from attempting to live up to the expectations of people who are not Jesus. The essence of self-knowledge is that we are all children of God and live our lives for an audience of one, and our audience loves us more than we can possibly love ourselves. If you have any doubt about this, look at a crucifix.
Today’s passage ends ominously when the devil had finished every temptation he departed from him for a time but he returns after Jesus entered jerusalem after the last time and Luke says almost casually Satan entered into judas called Iscariot. He will return for us as well. How shall we prepare? God has created a world with so many goods that temptation is simply the desire and alas the tendency to choose one that is not good enough. Life is defined by how we judge and organize the goods of life. Happiness today and bliss for all eternity is making Jesus the measure of all things