Temptation in the desert
Following a post titled, “The Man God,” by my comrade and caddy, Adam Fischer, Brian T. took to the comment board and sparked a discussion on the nature of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Since it got buried in a post no one else was reading anyway, I thought I’d reprise my response to Brian’s thoughts and see if there aren’t any other responses out there (or follow-up thoughts from Brian, for that matter).
In quick summary, Brian noted a reference Adam made to Jesus’ temptation, and asked for clarification. He wondered in what sense Adam was speaking about Jesus’ “weakness,” particularly during the temptation, since it is a matter of faith affirmed by the Church Fathers that Jesus could not possibly have failed in His mission, even down to the smallest choices. In other words, not only was He sinless, but He could not have sinned, due to His divine nature.
Brian posted several links to back up his stance, including this one.
Beyond the highlighted quote is a line from St. Leo the Great which says: “For we should not be able to vanquish the author of sin and death, were it not for the fact that our nature was assumed and appropriated by Him whom sin cannot sully and death cannot claim.”
This is exactly the way I perceive it, too, though my way is still rudimentary. In any case, the point I’d like to make is this: Death cannot claim Christ, but He did taste it. And for our part, when Jesus died, there was not an overwhelming confidence that He would rise, though He said so often that He would.
I am not about to segue-way into the idea that Jesus “tasted” sin, mostly because I’m not sure what that could mean. But if you’ll allow the analogy, I think this helps make a case: In the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, everyone knows Frodo is going to accomplish his mission and live to the end. In that sense, in the context of the story, he could not fail.
But if you read the story with that premise in mind, and therefore allow yourself to be bored with his adventures, you’re missing the point (and I don’t say YOU are missing the point, but one who reads it this way). There’s real danger there, which no one else has conquered and lived to tell about.
I agree that Christ could not have failed. Yet, He allowed that we should gasp at the thought of His death. We all fall to our knees when it is re-told on Palm Sunday. I doubt we would be doing this if it were a perfectly sterile event, if we read it in the manner described above: “Jesus appeared to be dead, but was not really, and proved this three days later by walking around with his scars in tact.”
Instead, we say, “He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again, in fulfillment of the Scriptures…” We might likewise say, “On the 40th day he was starving, vulnerable, and tempted. On that day he overcame temptation, in fulfillment of the Scriptures…”
Again, in all of this I don’t believe we (Brian, Fischer, and I) are opposed in any way. I would simply like to emphasize the danger involved, which leads to my echo of Adam’s point – That Christ did not, like Luigi grabbing the Invincibility Star in Super Mario Brothers, manifest His power to overwhelm the foe, in a show of force we are utterly incapable of imitating. Instead He turned to the Word of God, and let the Father be His strength, which we can certainly attain to.
I want to add that I believe this issue teeters on edge of reason, leading to mystery. Brian is correct to say that we should still be encouraged to think about it, to have serious minds plumb the depths and see what they can make of the landscape. Nevertheless, I think there is something in Jesus’ temptation (and even, if I may conjecture, what temptation there might have been throughout His Passion) that teaches us about love, which we can come to understand yet is forever unspeakable.
A question which points to this might be framed this way: A lover may say to a beloved, “I would never dream of doing (an act which betrays the beloved).” Would it be better for the lover to say, “In all my decisions regarding my love for you, I have carefully considered all of the options and their consequences. Every time, I have chosen to love you with my whole heart.”?