Yesterday, I posted part I of a reflection on the temptations of Jesus where, at the beginning of the Gospel, the devil lays our trap after trap for Jesus… who resists them. Today, I want to spend some time reflecting on the final and most blatant of Jesus’ temptations: being tempted to embrace popularity or glory.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. -Matthew 4:8-11
Jesus reacts to this temptation more severely than all the rest: rebuking the devil for the last time and sending him away. This is not the last time we will hear about Jesus’ kingdom in this world: the disciples will mix this up, and it will come up again over the course of His trial. On each occasion Jesus rebukes and corrects Satan, His disciples, and Pontius Pilate: His Kingdom is not of this world. But even with these accounts, we too can be tempted to focus on the wrong side of Heaven.
Although I’ve been a Catholic my whole life, my faith really woke up while I was in high school. After graduation, I made a decision to spend my first year after high school as a student at a Catholic Bible School. There, I spent a year soaking in everything I could learn about my faith, and growing a healthy prayer life. One year as a student turned into three more on staff, and I look back on those four years as the time I grew most steadily in my faith. This is largely due to the fact that prayer was scheduled into our daily routine.
But the honest truth is that in the fourteen years since I left, maintaining a healthy routine in prayer has been a battle I’ve lost far too often. As someone whose vocation it is to lead my family to Christ – and whose job it is to do the same for the young people I serve – this is a dangerous thing to do. It means that far too much of my ministry is about me because I’m not staying connected to the one for whom I do my entire ministry. The very fact that God has blessed the things I’ve done is as clear a sign of His faithfulness as I’ll ever find! But presumption can be a dangerous thing… and disconnected from God, I spend too much time worried about what others think of me. I can often guilty of obsessing over things with the goal of having everything figured out in my family and in my ministry… and all I do becomes misdirected – more concerned about the results I see here, or the reputation I have here than on actually building up the Kingdom of God. Mother Teresa once warned against this – reminding us that God has called us not to success, but to faithfulness.
My struggle flies in the face of what I’ve studied and learned, and at least a dozen talks I’ve given, but I still struggle to recognize how all that I am, all that I do, and all that I have (especially my faith) are a gift from God. What I’m not doing is giving up the fight. I’m clinging to Jesus – even if it’s only by a thread – with all that I’ve got. This last temptation is all about keeping things in the right order – loving God first and being concerned with eternal things. I recognize that my struggles with the other temptations all find their root here: if I was better connected to God, my trust in Him would be stronger and my desires for immediate gratification would be less.
One of Jesus’ disciples and closest friends struggled as I struggle. You’ll remember that on many occasions Simon Peter struggled to get things right. He walked with Jesus, saw the miracles, and still at times tried to do things his own way… most notably, on the way to the Cross when out of fear he denied Jesus and ran. Fortunately for Peter – and for me – the story doesn’t end there. John 21:15-19 tells us of Peter’s next encounter with Christ, and his opportunity to reaffirm his love for Jesus three times (which is fitting, because he denied Jesus three times.) While fear drove Peter away, love drew him back – and after each of Peter’s responses, Jesus calls him to continue to serve Him and those around him.
LIFE TEEN put together a retreat for youth leaders based on the temptations of Jesus called Spirit Led – and the reflections written there have certainly shaped my own over these last two posts. I can think of no better way to conclude these reflections than with the words they used:
With each temptation we face, both in ministry and in our personal lives, we need to hear Christ asking us (the same question he asked Peter). And our true answer is found in what we do with the temptation.
It is easier to fulfill my hungers with the things of this world… do you love me?
I want to trust God, but my life is falling apart… do you love me?
I am tired of my efforts going unnoticed and unappreciated… do you love me?