It took me a long time to learn what the temptations of the devil are about in Luke 4. Remember when the devil tempts Jesus after he has fasted in the desert for 40 days, just after he has been baptized? The devil’s first temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread. Next, the devil invites Jesus to rule all the nations in the world. Finally, the devil asks Jesus to throw himself off the temple wall and let God’s angels rescue him.
I mean, what’s wrong with Jesus turning stones into bread and feeding those who starve? Why should Jesus not rule all the lands of the world and institute justice and mercy for all? Why should Jesus not throw himself off the temple parapet and show the devil once and for all that he is God’s son with all God’s might? Wouldn’t all of those things be good?
Clearly not. So why would those not be good things?
After decades of political activism, it dawned on me that the temptations have one thing in common: The devil’s temptation is to substitute one powerful person or system with another. The changes Jesus could bring about in the devil’s scenario would be imposed in one act – just like magic! The devil tempts Jesus by asking him to become the new boss. And that is often the temptation that those of us engaged in working for justice are given. We are tempted by the vision of getting enough power to impose our agenda – God’s agenda of compassion for the poor – and make things right, once and for all.
But Jesus said “no thanks”. He said “no thanks” to a change that wouldn’t involve a change of people’s hearts. He declined the opportunity to impose a new agenda from above that would simply force people to obey a new power. Jesus did not want to become a new dominator with a new and improved agenda, The Jesus Agenda.
In Luke 4, I think God is trying to tell me something about my efforts to ensure justice and mercy for all in this land and in the whole world. Jesus doesn’t want me to win a great victory over the unjust power-people and triumphantly impose The Jesus Agenda. Jesus is asking me to open myself to being loved and transformed. He wants my words and actions to be such that they prepare the way for others to open themselves to God’s love and transformation.
Query for prayerful consideration:
In my pursuit of justice and mercy for all, do my words and actions invite others to open themselves to God’s life-changing love?