Jesus's Temptations are the Church's
“Reflecting on the temptations to which Jesus was subjected in the wilderness invites each one of us to answer a fundamental question: What really counts in my life? In the first temptation the devil proposes to Jesus that he turn a stone into bread to appease his hunger. Jesus retorts that man lives on bread as well, but that he does not live on bread alone. Without a response to his hunger for truth, to his hunger for God, man cannot be saved”
General Audience of Pope E. Benedict XVI, Feb 13, 2013
Because the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, we must remember that we inherit the graces and temptations of Jesus. Our identity as baptized Christians means that we are no longer of the first Adam, but of the New Adam. As a result, we are called to be Christ’s Body. That is, we enter into the same Desert that Jesus entered into.
Its in this way that we must examine Christ’s temptations. He is facing our temptations as a Body. How he responds to them, and how He overcomes them instructs the Church and merits for her the graces needed to face in each generation the Temptations that the Evil one subjects her too.
For the sake of brevity I would like to only focus on two dimensions of these temptations. If you’d like to delve into a deeper reflection on these temptations in this context, I would recommend buying Pope Benedict’s first book in the series, Jesus of Nazareth. What I would like to examine here is the first statement that comes to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God.” The term if lingers over the most important aspect of Christ echoed through the scriptures. Jesus asks us, “who do you say that I am?” It is in knowing who Christ is that we can then understand His mission. Christ enters into the desert prior to Him entering into a public ministry. The evil one seeks to corrupt that same mission, and he begins by attempting to thrust Christ into an identity crisis.
Jesus’ response is interesting. He doesn’t answer on His own behalf, but on behalf of the human race. “Man does not live by bread alone” he explains. Here Christ’s demonstrates that His temptations are ours. In this singular temptation, Jesus declines to prove Himself to the evil one and corrects the error. Jesus interprets the temptation to turn rock into bread a mere matter of reducing His ministry to dealing with the temporal hungers rather than the spiritual poverty humanity faces. Jesus does this because a) He knows exactly who He is, and thus has no vain need to prove Himself, and b) He knows exactly what he has come to do on Earth for the sake of humanity.
I believe the first temptation pertains to Christ’s priesthood. He is called to sacrifice his very life to set us free from sin and death. Likewise the Church must remain detached from the allurements of the world and as Pope Francis has stated be open to a type of poverty to make way for spiritual nourishment. Likewise, Christ rejects becoming an earthly King - to impose His will upon us through coercive techniques. Christ understands his role as our King to be one that requires our consent. Christ knows that coercion does not lead to free-choices, but ones that remain merely external forms of pressure to surrender. Christ wants a relationship, and it is in this realm that He is King.
Finally, Christ’s temptation to place himself on the pinnacle of the temple, is a temptation to place His human nature above the Divine Prerogatives. He would dictate rather than surrender His human will to the Divine will. In this way Christ embodies the perfect Prophet who faithfully represents God’s will and does not control, manipulate and distort it for gain. He does not test His Father, but entrusts Himself entirely to Him.
The question remains, do we understand who we are as His body? Do we understand that His mission is the same as ours? Do our planning meetings, our liturgies, our relationships demonstrate a preoccupation with temporal matters (mere bread). Does our identity get lost in secular categories of identity? These are some questions that I believe the Church would do well to examine as we move through the desert once again.
Lord Jesus, help your Church to always remember who You are, as its head. That we may always abide in your good nature, and fulfill your most perfect Mission. In doing as you did, we will build your Kingdom and not our own. Give us that grace and wisdom to do just that.