9th January 2013

What’s Wrong With Bread?

“Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone.”’”
Luke 4:1-4 (NIV)

There is something odd about the first stage of the Temptation in the Wilderness. I thought temptation was about doing something bad, like misrepresenting or envying people: something Ten Commandmenty. It is hard to see why pressuring someone to do something apparently quite sensible, could be any threat at all—let alone a devilish ploy to thwart their true destiny.

On the surface of it, bread sounds like a good idea. In case you thought Jesus was running on supernatural energy, both Matthew and Luke assure you that he did actually suffer real depletion of his physical reserves: “he was hungry”. Medical experts have it that nearly six weeks’ fasting would take you way beyond ketosis and well on through autophagy of the vital organs (if you’re squeamish, don’t look it up).

In which case, how does Jesus’ reply work?

On almost every occasion when Jesus talked of life, he was referring to the kind of life he knew from before his incarnation and intended to share with humanity (Luke 9:22, 10:28, John 6:35, 11:25, etc.). Even when he brought Lazarus, a young girl, and a widow’s son back from the dead, he didn’t call it life; he called it getting up or coming out (Luke 7:14, 8:54, John 11:43).

It is in that context that Jesus answers the temptation with a quote from the Old Testament, that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The 40-day fast was not an exercise in wilful or will-powerful self-harm, but an intense and total involvement in the working of God’s will at one of the great turning-points of something heavier than the universe: God’s plan.

You yourself may have experienced some short hours when you wished you could withdraw, when the routines of food, interaction, etc. became a painful intrusion on something that needed to finish happening in your head. I suppose the temptation of Jesus, lengthy as it was, needed to get finished (John 4:34).

I do notice that Jesus apparently did not do the weekly routine of fasting that the Pharisees took pride in (Luke 18:11-12), and was in fact known as someone who could enjoy a good meal when appropriate (Matthew 11:19).  

Prayer
Righteous Father, thank you for Jesus’ dedication to the process of our salvation. Help us to take example in our own lives from the ways in which he resisted all pressure to divert him from your purpose.
Amen

Study by Fiona Jones

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