Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
The site marked by Christians as the wilderness area where Jesus was tempted is in the hills above the city of Jericho. A monastery is there now, and you can see a picture of the monastery and area here: http://www.atlastours.net/holyland/monastery_of_temptation.html. Ironically, just to the right of this picture is a restaurant. I guess some of those stones became bread after all. You get to both by cable car.
They think the temptation of Jesus was in this area because the event is just after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, which is just the other side of Jericho…it’s last passage before coming to an end in the Dead Sea. Between the Jordan River and the waters of Elisha’s spring, the city of Jericho is a lush oasis. It was one of the most beautiful places we visited on my trip. As we sat on top of the archaeological excavations of Joshua’s Jericho, we had the barren, cavernous mountain behind us and the lush valley with the new city and the river below us, and I thought about temptation.
If Jesus were tempted in other parts of the Judean wilderness, where he was surrounded by rock and dust on all sides, it might have been easier to simply accept that as the way it was. But isolated on this mountain with the water and fertile valley just below, there would have been the constant temptation to scramble back down, quench his thirst in the spring, eat dates from the palms, and find relief from the blistering sun. It seems to me that temptation in this location would have been much harder than temptation a few miles away from such an oasis.
Of course no one can be sure that Jesus was tempted on that mountain. There was no “Jesus was here” carved into the rock. But the setting gave me pause. Temptation only comes (at least to me) when there is a choice of a different way. No one is tempted to steal if everybody just has the same stuff you have. But if you have just the bare necessities and you are surrounded by those living in the lap of luxury, temptation grows. Somebody gave in to the temptation of the mountain and stuck that restaurant up there, wanting to have both the view and the luxury together.
Christian life is like the temptation on that mountain. Living as Jesus taught is not the easy way. We look around and see that those who never turn the other cheek or give of their time or resources live easily and well. They get what they can for themselves, and the strategy works. It is easy to resent and has always been so. The Psalms are full of anger at the prosperity of the wicked when those trying to live decently with their neighbors seem to get only the raw end of the deal. If everybody were getting the shaft equally, we would have less of a problem. It is the difference that tempts us to go the easier route and to dump “love of neighbor” in favor of “more for me.”
But there stands Jesus on the mountain with the devil. No, he’s not going to turn stones into bread. No, he’s not going to flaunt his divine status with flamboyant deeds. No, he is not going to take his allegiance from God in order to gain worldly power. Even with the lap of luxury in full view, he stands strong for the harder, rockier road of God. He elects to save the world rather than himself. He doesn’t eat in the restaurant. Neither did we.
Lead us not into temptation, God. But if we do end up there, give us your strength. Amen.
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