February 17, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, OK

Deuteronomy 26, 4-10 + Psalm 91 + Romans 10, 8-13 + Luke 4, 1-13

Let’s quickly review the three levels of the Gospels I’ve taught you to think about.

  1. The original incident with Jesus
  2. The circumstances in the community for which the Gospel was composed
  3. The circumstances today in which we again proclaim this Gospel.

Now at the first level remember, Jesus is alone. if you are taking this text seriously, the first thing you have to wonder about is how did anyone know what went on out there in the wilderness? Was someone watching and taking notes? I don’t think so. What it is reasonable to suspect is that at some point Jesus shared his own temptations with the apostles, perhaps at sometime when they were going through the same temptations. Somehow this solitary event got put into the oral tradition that started the Gospels. Or perhaps, they were being tempted, and projected their temptations back into the life of the historical Jesus thinking surely he faced the same challenges they faced, so they looked to him for a response.

The second and third levels: the community for which Luke was writing, and this community here in Norman, Oklahoma are not much different when it comes to these temptations. They seem to affect us all at every age of human life.

The first temptation is actually not about bread, but about superficiality. It’s about a shallow life living it up,eat, drink, and be merry. Never mind about tomorrow, never mind about anyone else. It’s about that attitude that justifies having and buying everything you want just because you can. This temptation is to forget that there is something deeper to life than simply maintaining our vital signs. We face that temptation all the time. The community of Luke’s Gospel did what they could to make sure that people had enough bread. We know from Paul’s letters that in the early Christian communities the poor had enough to eat because everyone was committed to to sharing their wealth with them. But they were not motivated out of humanitarian desire to rid the world of hunger. Their commitment came from the fact that they had followed Jesus command to repent, to achieve a 180 degree change in their value systems, to look at everyone they met and every situation they encountered from a different point of view; that of Jesus Christ. In the world of God’s kingdom, all are equal, all share, all are one, all see their destiny in life as service to others.

We are always tempted to just take care of the surface need without ever changing the frame of mind that created those needs in the first place. The first is easy, but it will never transform the world in the way Jesus expects it to be transformed.

The second temptation comes right from the first. The temptation at the first level is to be a powerful, glorious messiah who will destroy the Romans and liberate the Promised Land. Luke’s community tempted as they lived through the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. We struggle with the temptation that always says: “might is right.” The power and glory route brings only temporary freedom for some people on some occasions, but the means it employs always leaves death and destruction in its path. Look at the Crusades as an example. Some of them “freed” the Holy Land for a short time and a limited number of people, but they never accomplished a lasting thing exact destruction and death. They would have been a lot more successful had they loved the Saracens instead of killing them. It’s always easier to defeat an enemy by force than win them over by love.

The third temptation reminds us that this is not about us. Spectacular and tremendous events are not God’s ways. Even the Resurrection of Christ from the tomb was nothing too spectacular, because no one believed it except the followers of Christ. Jesus never did give in the to the temptation to show up at Pilate’s front door and say: “I’m back!” There was not news crew there to demonstrate the stupidity of killing him.

Followers of Jesus Christ imitate his dying and rising in the most ordinary events of the day. They pay attention with love to people who not famous or known to anyone except their family and friends doing things that will never get the attention of the media.

The message of Luke to that community hundreds of years ago and his message to us today is that our mission in this world continues the mission and message of Jesus Christ who would not leave things alone if they were unjust and who came to serve everyone, not just some who thought they were deserving. The message of Luke still insists that power and might will accomplish nothing when it comes to bringing the peace of God’s Kingdom. No violence, no force, no fear. Only love. The message of Luke still spoken to us is a reminder that little people matter and little things make a difference; that acclaim and applause mean nothing as long as one single person is still in need.