Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:8-9)
You’ve got to give the guy credit, the devil knew what he was doing. He knew his role to play. He wasn’t supposed to ask anything outlandish, nothing that wouldn’t be possible. He wasn’t going to ask for the moon or anything like that, he was just trying to make sure Jesus was who he thought he was. “If you are the Son of God,” the tempter prefaced. He was only making sure Jesus understood his own role.
That’s why the last temptation is so great. While all three temptations play on the idea of power: the power to take care of oneself; the power to test God; and the power over the world, it’s the last one which is most intriguing to me, simply because the Tempter promises Jesus something he will receive if he follows God’s path: the world.
Jesus will receive the world, become its Lord and King if he lives out his life the way God wants it to be. The Tempter isn’t offering Jesus won’t already get, what he is offering is a short-cut. A short-cut around the difficult part to come. A short-cut around proclaiming the topsy-turvy kingdom of God which looks nothing like the kingdoms of the world. A short-cut around challenging the elite’s pre-conceived notions of who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to God’s love. A short-cut around the Last Supper. A short-cut around the shameful cross.
Basically, the devil challenges the mission of the Son of God. He is saying that the ends justify the means, that what we do doesn’t matter as long as the end result resembles what we were trying to do. Jesus is going to wield power over the world, what does it matter who he gets there?
But Jesus doesn’t give in. He doesn’t simply balk at the proposal, but categorically denies it. I think this is because Jesus knows God isn’t a utilitarian, God does care about the means we get things done.
The challenge for us then is to not give in to the temptation to utilize shortcuts which would lead us around the valley of anxiety. Don’t give into the short-cut of seeing other people as a label instead as created in the image of God. Don’t give into the short-cut of valuing personal security over ever present mercy. Don’t give into the short-cut of working for comfort and ease over justice for all.
This Lent, don’t give in.