By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Give the devil his due; his suggestions can seem harmless and within reason, while God’s commands can seem cruelly arbitrary and entirely unreasonable. Jesus has been driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit. He’s fasting, starving. Then here comes the devil. Why not turn a rock into a little bread while, at the same time, proving that he really is God the Son? Kill two problems with one stone, suggests the tempter. What would be the harm?
What would it mean if Jesus had done what the devil suggested? Would it really have made a difference if Jesus had changed a rock into bread? What would it mean if Jesus had not performed his first signs among the people but rather with the devil in the desert?
Satan approaches Jesus three times, and during his last temptation his true intention is revealed: “Worship me.” In three steps we go from the very reasonable — “you seem hungry, have a little bread” — to the unthinkable. We should take heed. Most if not all “no-downside” propositions are lies. Actions have consequences and some can be extremely serious, even devastating. This can be hard to see on our own, which is why the devil loves to come to us when we’re alone. Consider Eve who, while on her own, accepted a similar devilish proposition, the consequences of which we’re still wrestling with today.
Whenever a call for action is presented to us as perfectly reasonable with no downsides, especially if the moral waters are murky, we should go and seek out a few people — let’s ironically call them devil’s advocates — and together seriously consider the potential upsides, as well as whether the idea holds water — or hides a temptation.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe