Jesus sweeps into the desert, filled with the Holy Spirit, led by a voice that had proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
These are the words of God the Father. Notice, they were nearly the same as God’s utterance eight hundred years before:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1-4).
Was Jesus surprised to hear this? In the most profound sense, no. After all he already knew in his deepest soul that he was divine. But he was also human, and completely so. Therefore, in his explicit, daily, human mind, he was surprised. Though he had read and re-read the Isaiah passage since he was at his mother’s knee, only now did it all click into place.
His vocation was to be the chosen one.
So, he was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert in order to recall the Father’s words again and again, over and over, in silence and with an openness so holy that it would seem almost like emptiness.
But someone else was aware of these events. The devil, with a dumb and greedy knowledge, knew that this great servant of God could be used for ugly motives. Jesus’ strength, his God-like holiness, the fame that he would acquire, all these could become a tool for subjecting the world to evil. So he slid over to Jesus.
“No point in being empty,” he said. “Just give a Godly command and this stone will turn into bread and get rid of that hunger.” In other words, You know you are God, don’t you? Take whatever you want. Have a great life!
Jesus answered from the scriptures. “No one lives by bread alone.” These words paraphrase Moses’ great second speech to the people of Israel:
Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).
(Note to reader: how do you and I assuage our hungers? )
The devil hurried on to a second temptation. “Join me, worship me. All the kingdoms in the world will be yours, as they are mine already.” (Translation: you can be bigger than this heavenly king of yours.) Jesus repelied, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve” (see Dt 6:13).
(Note to the reader: whom do you and I worship and serve? )
Two temptations have failed. Yet, “even the devil can quote scripture.” So it uses Psalm 91—the part about God commanding angels to guard his beloved one (Ps 91:11-12). “Just throw yourself off these heights,” he proposes smoothly. “God’s angels will have no choice, they will have to come save you. Take advantage of who you are.”
(Note to the reader: Don’t you sometimes want to show off your power? )
Jesus again answered from the same book of scripture (Dt 6:16). “You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” he says. His meaning: God the Father is first and above all. If you can bribe him to do tricks for you, then you will seem equal to him! But you aren’t.*
(Note to the reader: don’t we sometimes act like we think we are God?)
Welcome to Lent!
It says, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” But the word they translate as “for a time” is the Greek word, Kairos, which means, not “for a time” but for “a fruitful time, a right time, a favorable time, a definite fixed time, a more favorable time.” Thus, Luke is saying that the devil left Jesus to wait for an “opportune time,” or in other words, when the temptations would be successful.
Strangely, our lectionary translation does amend the text’s word by saying in a footnote, “The devil’s opportune time will occur before the passion and death of Jesus (Lk 22:3, 31–32),” thus bringing home the intent of Luke in an addendum rather than the text itself.