The temptations of Jesus in the desert probably reveal his human side as much as any other gospel story.
Though scripture says he was “like us in all things except sin”,we tend to see Jesus unlike us: a miracle worker, an assured teacher, a master of circumstances, someone above it all.
But look at him in the desert, weary, vulnerable, struggling for footing in a dangerous land. Was much of his life really like that?
Think of the demands people made on him. The blind man shouting from the roadside, the paralytic lowered from the roof, the woman pleading for her daughter were just some of the many who pressed their cares on him at every turn. Did he tire of it all?
Is the Evil One’s first suggestion, that he turn stones into bread, a lifelong temptation Jesus had to lay down this everyday burden, the burden of doing good, and rest?
Lord, art thou weary? Is the work
the father trusted to thy care,
his ruined temple to restore;
beyond thy mortal strength to bear?
Is thy omnipotence indeed
too sorely pressed in this our need?
Lord, art thou weary? –Janet Erskine Stuart
And what of the other temptations in the desert? Think how pressured he was by the political and religious establishments of his day to conform to their standards and be quiet. Just go along, they said, and you have a place with us, even a place of honor. Jesus called those powerful people “children of the devil”.
Yet was he tempted to conform and go along just the same?
Even his own disciples were his temptors. Listen to their advice to him: “Leave this place and go up to Judea, so that your followers will see the things you are doing. No one hides what he is doing if he is well known. Since you are doing these things, let the whole world know about you.” ( Jn 7:3-5)
Why waste time here in out-of-the-way Galilee? Use your spectacular power, they told him. You can be a world-wide success.
He must have responded to them as he responded once to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.”
The desert temptations must have been temptations Jesus faced everyday. If they are, how like us he is: tempted to give up under our daily burdens, tempted to compromise and follow the crowd, tempted to seek some extraordinary power rather than the quiet power found in ordinary life.
Can we be like him? Tempted, but still victorious? Will he not deliver us?
we would rather see you strong
than hungry and weak.
Forty days alone,
no miracles, no eager crowds,
no friendly space to buoy you up,
no companion but the Evil One.
This is not the Jordan
where the Father said:
“Here is my Son, listen to him.”
And the Spirit, like a dove,
watched your every step.
you are a weary man,
tired by the daily strain,
at the limits of your strength.
Where would we learn this story,
but from you?
And did you speak of a lifetime
more than forty days
Were your days like ours?
“Turn these stones into bread.”
Were there days like desert stones,
when you walked in waterless places,
and grew weary doing good?
“All these kingdoms will be yours, if…”
Were there days
when promises looked better broken;
right and truth only unreal dreams;
and life secure somewhere else?
“Throw yourself down…”
Were there days
when the journey step by step,
simple words and simple deeds,
hardly seemed to make a difference?
By the mystery of your temptation
in the desert,
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.