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Strange Encounter

March 11, 2019

St.Mark's Basilica_Venice
Mosaic_Temptations of Christ

Scripture Luke 4:1-14

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.

Luke 4:1-2 NRSV

If you have not read the full scripture lesson, Many of us first heard this in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School. Our adult experience of the story probably includes its treatment in films and even some jokes about the influence of evil on our choices. Comedian Dana Carey’s “Church Lady” skit asked what made you sin: “What was it- SATAN??!!” And, prior to that comedian Flip Wilson got mileage out of his famous line: “The devil made me do it!”

But, if someone asked you what was memorable about this story in our scripture, many of you would describe the confrontation of Jesus and the opponent, named as the devil. While that sets off a lot of preconceived notions about the presence of evil, the writers used the original Greek word diábolos to replace the Hebrew word sa-tán, or Satan in English. The key element here is that the Hebrew word, sa-tán, refers to an opponent, a spokesperson, or an attorney. This is the same word used in the Book of Job for the advisor in God’s heavenly court in our English translations of the Bible. But, no matter how we interpret the confrontation the scripture above describes a unique story found in Luke, Matthew, and Mark.

Even more importantly, the Gospel writers provide us with a number of teachings. One important aspect of the story is its emphasis on the conflict between the humanity of Jesus and his divine nature. The temptations before Jesus are these: creature comforts, personal safety, and worldly power. These should sound as familiar to our ears as it did for those early believers in the church who were hearing it in the first century. More importantly, the story has great power, bringing us alongside Jesus and drawing us into his life and mission and ministry.

In the dialogue, Jesus flips each challenge, placing emphasis on God’s power and grace, which remain available for you and me, as well. God’s abundant love for us is the firm foundation for each one of us, as we continue our own faith journey. This is the purpose of the Lenten season, as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Easter and the power of the resurrection of Christ, our Risen Lord.

Stan Reid


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