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February 2003 

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Temptations in the desert




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Temptations in the desert.
Matthew 4, 1-11; Luke 4, 1-13; Mark 1, 12-13

Just after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the Evangelists showed that Jesus was inspired by the spirit going in the desert to be tempted. We can imagine that Jesus having a clearer idea of his mission after his baptism by John felt the need for a retreat to think about the way he will manage his mission. Aware of his responsibility, he wished to look at it more objectively. What is the meaning of the temptations that were set before him? What is temptation? Is it not the expression of the desire that is inside every person, a, sometime eager, desire to live?

The need to live becomes stronger after a long lasting fast, but it goes further than a need for food. To live we need to eat, true, but we need more than food. We need to be recognized by the others, to exist for them. This universal desire can be attributed to God himself, as the creator of human life. It is why it is right to say that Jesus was driven to the desert by the spirit to be tempted, and it is also true to pray to our Father to lead us not into temptation and to deliver us from evil. Because what will happen if this desire is pushed too far, more so if we possess some authority and have a mission?
tentation Does the transformation of desire into temptation come from an evil God? This desire is rooted in our human nature and it is ambiguous: it can drive us to the most sublime actions as to the most evil ones. The devil, which is introduced by the Evangelists as the author of the temptations, represents a part of oneself struggling with the other part. All of us have to deal with this internal conflict. 
The choice that we do calls out our human liberty. In Mathew and Luke, this conflict is depicted through biblical citations that are exchanged between the two enemies. Finally it is not the biblical citations that reveal the good choice from an alternative but the specific behavior that will be taken on.

Then Jesus became hungry: "he fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards hungry (Mat. 4, 2). It is the first elementary need to be fulfilled for (a) human life. The stones in front of Jesus looked like loaves of bread. In this weak state induced by the fasting, Jesus imagines the smell and the taste of crispy bread.
But he pulls himself together, there are other types of hungers: "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that processes out of the mouth of God"  autres faims
However he still has to deal with the devil within. As he is at another level of need, a new thought come to him. This need is as important as the need to eat; it is the need to be recognized and to exist for (the) others. It is known that babies, although correctly fed, if they are deprived of affection, without contact with adults, without words from somebody that make them exist, they inescapably decline. In the same way all the words coming from the mouth of God bring life.

But this need as strong as hunger can be transformed into a will of power towards someone else. Then Jesus is seeing himself as possessing all the kingdoms on earth that recognize him as the Lord and Master. That will be more comfortable than engage oneself into a risky way of life. Is not his goal to restore his kingdom on earth? Yes but he is going to choose another method. He will make himself the servant, the friend of each of us to the point as to let himself be put to death. But after all, does he need the recognition of men; the one from God will suffice him? If God loves him, if he sends him, if he really cares for him, he should prove it. Then he is going to jump from the top of the Temple and God will be obliged to act, to send an angel to pick him up and put him on the ground. His temptation is to put God at his service. If God is all-powerful, let him do it for him! And also what an easy success! But Jesus recognizes an attitude of tempting God. "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" He resigns himself to God, with confidence and humility.

combat intérieur Exhausted by this inner struggle but more aware of his method among those offered to him, calmed down by his refusals of those methods that do not go with the meaning that he wants to give to his mission, he can relax and accept some help. "Then the devil leaves him and behold angels came and ministered unto him (Mt. 4, 11)." 
"Angel" is the name for any providential person who arrives at the right time as sent by God. Here we can think of a caravan, a group of travelers passing by, perhaps some friends who are looking for him.
Jesus is ready. Without waiting he starts to teach in synagogues, to announce the good news of the Kingdom and to "heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people (Mt 4, 23)"