Beacons of Hope: Third Sunday of Lent

Luke 4:1-12

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,to protect you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Dripping wet from his baptism, Jesus begins to fast. Lent is often understood as a meditation on Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, as narrated above (and in Matthew 4). I always admire Jesus’ narrow commitment to his values. It’s almost as if ruling the nations, turning stones into bread, and being saved by angels are not appealing to him! I often find myself scratching my head a bit when reading this story. Jesus is the God of the powerless. But don’t we need power to do good? What is advocacy and activism for justice without the political power Jesus denied? To genuinely love those with and in whom we find Jesus? What about those of us who already lack power and privilege? Why should we give up more than what’s already been taken from us?

Jesus doesn’t seem to give us a complete picture of how to relate to power or the demands of the world around us, except for a model of what it means to live by the power of the Holy Spirit alone. Henri Nouwen, a popular Christian writer on spirituality, also doesn’t give such an account of Christians and power. But he did think of these three temptations as paradigmatic temptations for Christians, especially Christian leaders. We are tempted to be relevant (to turn stone to bread), to be powerful (to rule the nations), and to be spectacular (to be saved by God’s angels). Resisting these temptations is foundational to a life of following Jesus (see Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus).

It’s interesting to me that the devil brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was likely baptized on the East bank of the Jordan, where John the Baptist usually baptized, which means he would have had to cross over the river to get to Jerusalem (almost 20 miles away). That’s quite a journey to then be asked to roll down a building! But it seems important that they didn’t go to Rome, the capital of the Roman empire, which ruled the area at the time.

Standing on the Temple, Jesus might be remembering visits to the Temple throughout his life, like the time his parents lost him and he started teaching the elders. Perhaps he has heard of Simeon and Anna’s diligent prayers for him in this very Temple. Surely this was a place that assured him of God’s faithfulness. If the Father were to appoint angels to save him falling down any building, it would be this one. 

The Temple may also have been the place where Jesus was most tempted to do something spectacular. The elders and priests were there– the people he had impressed since his youth. 

It strikes me that from the top of the Temple, Jesus can see the small town in which he was born (Bethlehem). He probably cannot see the Jordan river, in which he was baptized, unless it was an especially clear day, and he certainly couldn’t see Nazareth, where he grew up.

If Jesus were at the pinnacle of the Temple today, and had really good eyesight, he would see a small community called Ma’an lil-Hayat (“Together for Life” in Arabic). Ma’an lil-Hayat is a L’Arche community in the heart of Bethlehem, just a five-minute walk to the Church of the Nativity where Jesus is thought to have been born. They are the only felt workshop in Palestine, using wool grown in the West Bank to create ornaments, nativity sets, and other gifts. Selling these objects provides an income for the people with and without intellectual disabilities who create them. The community includes eight assistants and 16 core members, or people with intellectual disabilities. They include Christians and Muslims and are united in their desire for mutual relationships.

Nouwen saw L’Arche communities as opportune places for living apart from the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. Wrongly, people with intellectual disabilities exist on the margins of most societies; their fellowship is hardly “relevant” to the demands of competitive and busy modern life. They often lack the power due to all people; their friendship often does not offer much power or influence. For Nouwen, though, friendship with people with intellectual disabilities does provide a model for living without power, allowing God and others to lead oneself. They model a life of interdependence which contrasts the temptation to be powerful enough not to need others. 

As we journey through Lent together, seeking to follow Jesus with more of our hearts and all of our devotion, how are you tempted to be relevant? Or spectacular? Or powerful?

Humble God, we ask that you walk with us in this Lenten season. In our weariness from fasting, and with your unsurpassed tenderness, speak to us about how to follow you with greater devotion. Lead us with greater strength and gentleness than any temptation. Bless everyone living in the Holy Land during this holy season, especially Ma’an lil-Hayat and everyone with intellectual disabilities. May we live all of our life and ministries truly in Jesus’ name.

Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. He is currently waiting to continue fieldwork in Bethlehem until it is safe to do so. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.

Kevin also earned a BA in philosophy from University of Chicago and has researched how churches can better care for and empower people with various disabilities. He has affiliations with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Vineyard USA, and United Methodist Church. In his spare time, you can find him running, biking, or playing the piano. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.