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Posted July 11, 2007

Our Three Temptations

By Ron Rollheiser

Cosmologists today tell us that the universe has no single center. Its center is everywhere, every place, every planet, every city, every species, and every person. But we already know this.

Faith tells us that what ultimately defines us and gives us our identity and energy is the image and likeness of God in us. We are Godís blessed ones, masters of creation, special to God and special within creation.

And we know this long before religion tells it. Deep down, whether we admit it or not, we each nurse the secret of being special. And this is not just ego or narcissism but a congenital imprint inside our very souls. Imprinted in the core of our being is the sense that we are not just an accidental, anonymous chips of dust, almost invisible on the evolutionary conveyer-belt, destined to flicker for an instant and then disappear forever. We know we are more. We, literally, feel timelessness, eternity, and immortal meaning inside of ourselves.

In our daily lives that often causes more heartaches than it solves. It is not easy to live out our blessed, special status when, most of the time, everything around us belies that we are special. As much as we experience ourselves as special, we also experience emptiness, anonymity, and dour ordinariness. And so it can be easy, in the end, to believe that we arenít special at all, but are precisely small, petty spirits, haunted by over-inflated egos.

But, while over-inflated egos do cause their share of heartaches, it is a still an unhealthy temptation to believe that we are not blessed simply because life finds as one-among-six-billion-others, struggling, and seemingly not special in any way. Faith tells the true story: We are, all of us, made in Godís image and likeness, blessed, and our private secret that we are special is in fact the deepest truth.

However that isnít always easy to believe. Life and circumstance often tire us in ways that tempt us to believe its opposite. It happened to Jesus.

He too was tempted, and there was a particular prelude to his vulnerability:

During his baptism, he had heard his Father say: "You are my blessed son, in whom I take delight!" Those words then formed and defined his self-consciousness. Knowing that he was blessed, Jesus could then look out at the world and say: "Blessed are you when you are poor . . . and meek . . . and persecuted."

But throughout his life Jesus struggled to always believe that. For instance, immediately after his baptism, we are told, the spirit drove him into the desert where he fasted for forty days and forty nights - and afterwards "he was hungry". Obviously what scripture is describing at here is not simply physical hunger. Jesus was empty in ways that made him vulnerable to believe that he was not Godís blessed child. These were his three temptations:

First, the devil tempted him to this effect: "If you are Godís specially blessed one, turn these stones into bread." In essence, the devilís taunt was this: "If you believe that you are Godís specially blessed creature, why is your life so empty?" Jesusí reply, "One doesnít live on bread alone!" might be rendered: "I can be empty and still be Godís blessed one! Being blessed and special is not dependent upon how full or empty my life is at a given moment!"

The second temptation has to do with human glory and its absence. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says: "All of these will be yours if you worship me!" The taunt is: "If youíre Godís blessed one, how come youíre a big, fat nobody? Not famous, not known, anonymous." And Jesusí reply might be worded this way: "I can be a big nobody and still be Godís blessed one. Blessedness doesnít depend upon fame, on being a household name!"

The third temptation follows the same lines: The devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple and challenges him to throw himself down to make God catch him since, in faith, it is promised that God wonít let his blessed one "dash his foot against a stone". Jesus responds that we shouldnít put God to the test. The temptation and how we should resist it are both contained in his reply. In essence, what Jesus says when the devil challenges him to throw himself off the top of the temple to prove his specialness is this: "Iíll take the stairs down, just like everyone else!" Our blessedness is not predicated on having a VIP elevator, or on having any special privileges that set us apart from others. We are Godís blessed ones, even when we find ourselves riding the city buses.

And it is good to remember that, namely, that we are Godís special, blessed sons and daughters, even when we lives seem empty, anonymous, and devoid of any special privileges because then we wonít forever be putting God and our restless hearts to the test, demanding more than ordinary life can give us.