To have, to do, to be.
The three temptations of Jesus are universal expressions of the desire :
- to have (stones to bread),
- to do (throw yourself down from the tower),
- to be (become the ruler of all.)
KENNETH E. BAILEY is an author and lecturer on Middle Eastern New Testament studies living in New Wilmington, and he writes this :
Henri Nouwen, the late Dutch Roman Catholic spiritual writer, published a thoughtful little book, In the Name of Jesus (1996.) in it he identifies three temptations for modern Christians that relate to the three temptations of Jesus. They are:
The temptation to be relevant (change stones to bread.)
Nouwen moved from 20 years teaching at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard to live and work with the mentally and physically handicapped who could not read and knew nothing of his accomplishments. The result was, as he describes it, "These broken, wounded and completely unpretentious people force me to let go of my relevant self -- the self that can do things, ...proves things, builds things ..." . He found himself completely vulnerable and "open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments. He goes on to affirm, "I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self .
Our accomplishments, he thought, are not important. Underneath the world's accomplishments is a deep current of despair, emptiness, and depression. What matters is that "God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love is the true source of all human life" .
The temptation to be spectacular (throw oneself down from the tower.)
Nouwen describes this temptation as the pressure to do something that will win great applause. Stardom and individual heroism are, he feels, aspects of our competitive society pervasive in the church. In contrast, the authentic task is heard from the lips of Jesus to Peter, "Feed my sheep" (John 21). Nouwen affirms that we church leaders are "sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for" .
The temptation to be powerful (kingdoms of this world)As a university professor, Nouwen had been "in charge" and a powerful person. Among the handicapped, it was different. He writes: "One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation for power -- political power, military power, economic power, moral and spiritual power" . It is easier to control people than to love them, he found. But our task is to empty ourselves and follow Jesus. The way of power is chosen, he writes, " ... when intimacy is a threat. ... Many Christian empire builders have been people unable to give and receive love" .
In a profound sense, the three temptations of Jesus are full of meaning for an individual, a church, and for a nation. All three are worthy for us to reflect on as part of Lent.