16th January 2013

Smirnenski’s Staircase

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’”
Luke 4:5-8 (NIV)

Hristo Smirnenski (1898-1923), a Bulgarian author, wrote an allegory titled, “The Tale of the Stairs”. The young man in the story wanted to climb the staircase of power in order to set right the terrible injustices he saw in the world. The staircase belonged to the devil, and for every three steps the well-intentioned man took, he had to exchange something. His hearing and eyesight were taken first, and in their places he was given altered senses, so that things neither looked nor sounded as they were. To move up the final three steps, he had to sacrifice his heart and memory. Just as he arrived at the top he found that nothing seemed to need changing after all.

The implication is that even politicians, who begin by sincerely aspiring to govern honestly, can find themselves gradually bowing to the very real power of what I suppose would be called culture, circumstance, convenience or political correctness. ‘Just this once,’, I suppose the temptation goes, ‘and when you get into power you can sort it out and really start doing a great deal of good.’

Jesus came through perfectly clear as to where to draw the line between awareness that someone holds certain powers, and allowing them control over you. He did not deny that Satan held political power in the world, but he never went anywhere near Smirnenski’s staircase, either in the wilderness or during the rest of his time on earth. One thing that stands out strongly in reading through the gospels is that Jesus never once ingratiated himself or apologised for who he was, regardless of the type of pressure he encountered. He connected with people exactly where they were, and yet somehow still on his own terms. If asked a question, without being evasive he would reply in such a way as to alter the question rather than satisfy the questioner—indeed, he didn’t feel compelled to answer at all. And the route he took to victory was the last thing anyone at the time expected (Luke 24:9-24), but it was for real (Matthew 28:18).

I do not suppose that in 40 days of temptation there were only three approaches employed by the enemy, nor are they even written in the same order among the gospels. The trio suggests a range of techniques from distraction, through badgering and misuse of scripture, to desperate bargaining. Probably we all recognise, in retrospect, times when we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated in similar ways, but whatever our failures, Jesus’ victory is for all. 

Righteous Father, we praise you for your integrity as demonstrated by Jesus, who really did take the hardest path. Righteousness has prevailed; we open our hearts to this and rejoice that temptation loses its power in the face of faith in him. In Jesus’ name.

Study by Fiona Jones

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