February 12, 2008

It Is Written

Jesus answered him,
"It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

Every Sunday we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." In at least one instance in Jesus' life, however, the answer to that prayer was a sobering "no."

Quick on the heels of his beautiful baptism (Luke 3:21-22), Jesus finds himself in a barren place. The Spirit brings him to the "wilderness"—a situation no doubt familiar to him, as it was so utterly familiar to his ancient forty-year forbearers in faith. Indeed, God has a long history of rescuing his people from the wild, barren, even deadly places (Exodus 16:35, Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Consider the undeniable gravity of Luke 4:1-13. In his lonesomeness and hunger, our Lord is besieged by a trinity of temptations. Each one is alike in that he is being enticed to choose a different vocation, another (no doubt easier) way of being messiah. Shall he exploit his status with the Father to secure a more certain and painless future, or will he trust that in the calling he has been given, God will surely supply his legitimate needs? To be (the Christ) or not to be … that is the question in this wilderness, his wilderness.

It should be noted that amid the onslaught of attractive alternatives—these three temptations to forget both who he is and whose he is—his chosen remedy is not his creative originality or some fantastic superpower. The Jesus of Luke's gospel is neither a virtuoso genius nor a plastic superhero; he is the beloved of God. As such, he fends off the devil with the best "power" at his disposal: the old, old word of the Lord.

Thrice he is temped, and thrice he replies: "It is written…"

His quick recall of those inspired scriptural words suggests countless little stewardship choices along his earlier life's way: I shall use this moment to feast on the word of the Lord (cf Luke 2:46). And having feasted often, he now knows the word of life even amid his current famine. By God's word, Jesus is not only shielded from the clutches of substantial temptation, he finds the strength he needs to embrace his true calling. Indeed, by the very next verse, he is off and running (Luke 4:14).

Here's a Lenten question for us all: If even our Lord looked to scripture in his time of vexing need, how much more does it behoove us to stockpile plenty of scripture in the cupboards of our mind? Engaging the Bible often is no mere item of duty on some religious to-do list. Time spent feasting on scripture might just turn out to be the difference between life and death.

Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Proverbs 30:5

May the old, old promises of God take root and bloom in your life, and in the lives of those you love, during this Lenten journey to Easter.