Friday, October 09, 2009

Super J

Two Bible study classes ago, the pastor who leads this study was lecturing on Matthew 4 -- specifically, the temptation of Jesus. He introduced several interesting ideas that I'd like to rehash here and present as my own (ha ha).

One statement I was already pretty clear on -- if something does not tempt you, for you, it is not a temptation. For example, you could hold out a plate of chocolate to me and I could easily say, "pass." It's just not on my radar. But offer me some salty peanuts or popcorn and I will be squirming. For me, THAT is a temptation.

Most of the temptations we face are far more serious that chocolates and salty snacks, but the fact remains: the temptations that Satan presented to Jesus really were legitimate temptations to him. I have to make that point here because of my tendency to classify Jesus as Super J -- a little more than human. Yeah, Super J came into this world with "one up" on the rest of us. I mean, if you're fully God, you have to be a little more than fully human, right? Truthfully, haven't we all from time to time entertained a thought that sounded something like this: "Well of course Jesus was able to do that ... he was Jesus!" Yeah, that's right! He's Super J. What did you expect?

Frankly, denying the full humanity of Christ is bad theology. If his divine nature somehow disqualifies him as fully human, how can I comfort myself that he experienced everything I have or will experience? Yet it is something I revisit from time to time, this misconception of Jesus as Super J.

It is universally accepted among Christians that Jesus was without sin. Likewise, we can define sin as meeting a legitimate need in a illegitimate way. (I know there are those who could find an exception to this definition, but for the most part it holds true.) So the temptations of Christ (and no, Mary Magdalene was not one of them -- at least not as represented by Matthew's gospel) can be described as situations or conditions that tempted Jesus to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way.

Temptation #1: "If you are truly the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread..." Having fasted for 40 days, Jesus was pretty famished at this point. The teaching pastor explained that after about 3 days, the human body sort of forgets about food (I am paraphrasing wildly). Then around day 35 or so, the body gets hungry again. By this point, the body's fat reserves have been depleted entirely and vital organs approach the "shut down" stage. At this point the choice is quite simple: eat or die.

So to suggest to a fully human man suffering from the prolonged effects of fasting who has the fully divine ability to turn stones into bread that he should do just that and, thereby saving himself, really is a temptation.

How does Jesus respond? By focusing on the truth and holding on tight: "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" The truth he focuses on is that the spiritual supersedes the physical. Even after 40 days, there are still things that are more important than food.

(Yeah, you go Super J! You tell him!)

Temptation #2: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands...'" I have often understood this temptation to be that of claiming we are more significant or important than we really are; that God should and will stop what he is doing at any particular moment and intercede on our behalf. But the teacher's interpretation here really threw me for a loop. He suggested that the temptation here for Jesus was that of suicide.

That's when I caught myself thinking Super J thoughts again. They sounded something like this: Whaaaaaaat???? Ain't no way Super J would be thinking about suicide.

I even posed that question to the teacher: What would lead you to believe that the mind of Jesus would even be at that place?

A fair question, apparently. He replied that his dire physical state might easily take him there. Think about it, he was perfect at this point. He could kill himself now, be totally in control of the kind of death he endures, and still technically claim that he died for the sins of the world. Who needs the cross? There just may be a better, easier way...

Jesus shoots back a solid reply: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Jesus doesn't just focus on a truth and hold on tight here; he models an important practice for all Christians -- that of weighing truths. Jesus thinks about the scripture the tempter quotes and comes up with a higher truth. When we pull single scripture verses out of the air and hold them up as absolute, no-questions-asked proof of a particular premise, we can find ourselves stretching the truth. In fact, the teacher stated that anyone who believes every voice in their head quoting scripture is a divine voice has been had!

Temptation #3: "All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me."

The point here is that we all know the scripture, "... every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..." However, that is a promise given after the resurrection. Jesus was still in the process of becoming Cosmic King of the Universe (the teacher's phraseology, not mine). Thus once again, the temptation seems to be related to taking the short cut. Getting the glory without all that messy blood and crucifixion and burial stuff.

Again, the truths are weighed and Jesus pronounces the greater truth: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only."

That was quite a workout -- physical, spiritual and emotional. Super J would have shrugged it off and shouted to the universe: "Who's got next? Bring it!" But Jesus found himself empty, spent, in need of refueling on several levels.

And so, "... angels came and attended him." Yes, that seems like a legitimate need at that particular moment for the One who is fully human and fully divine.

1 comment:

wayne said...

In all my conflicts about Jesus I never assumed he was more than human. To be otherwise would cheapen the pain of death. He was God's son but fully human.