Bread or obedience

Daily Reading for February 11

Temptation does not usually come when we are ready for it. It does not come when we are strongest, when we are at our best. It comes when we are weak. It came to Jesus when he was hungry, very hungry. . . . When he had grown weak, when he was not physically strong, when it became hard to see straight and clearly in the dazzling sun of that sun-drenched land, it was then that temptation came.

Jesus was exposed to terrible hunger, his body giving him no rest. Perhaps he was looking at the smooth round stones that lay at his feet. They looked something like the smooth loaves just out of a baker’s oven, and then it struck him, “Turn these stones into bread.”

It was a temptation to use his powers to bring comfort to his body, to use his unique relationship to God as a magic wand to care for his earthly needs. That was a personal temptation he faced: to avoid the pains of a bodily life. More broadly, it was to avoid being subject to one of the common human conditions we face. It was a temptation to reject a condition set by God, namely, that we are to seek him as beings who must eat, who are vulnerable to starvation, as beings who are made to desire material goods and who can therefore become greedy, covetous, envious. To use his powers to provide food in a miraculous way when he was in trouble would have been to reject a condition his Father sets for us. He could hardly have pioneered a new way for us to the Father if he rejected one of the conditions to which we are subject in our pilgrimage.

But it was also for him a temptation that concerned the welfare of others. He could have made his mission to the world an attempt to satisfy people’s bodily needs. He could have tried to see to it that everyone had food, clothing, and shelter; to see that everyone’s sensuous needs and desires were fully satisfied.

His Father faced that decision when he made the universe; he could have protected us from all shortages, from being vulnerable to starvation. But clearly we are vulnerable and we are not fully protected. Whatever the reason for this situation, it is where we are. The decision the Father made at creation, to allow this, was now faced by Jesus. He had to ratify or to reject his Father’s decision by deciding what his mission was to be—bread or obedience to his Father’s will.

That was for him a temptation, a terrible temptation. For are not we all, as he was, frequently moved by compassion at the suffering of people, their terrible suffering? All people are not being fed. At the same time do not we all know that people do not live by bread alone? None of us is hungry. . . . We consume and consume and consume, and we learn the hard way—if we learn at all—that we cannot be satisfied this way. We need it; it is good; yet it does not fill us. We find here that we are tempted into evil, not by something that is evil, but by something that is good.

From Temptation by Diogenes Allen. A Seabury Classic from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

Past Posts