Bag of Goods, Not So Good

Idol Examples

Fidelity is a loaded term and maybe more in a world of gossip where one hears of infidelity.  In the spiritual life there are subtle temptations that can come where we give affections meant for God alone and give it to the things that are passing way.  Occasionally those temptations can be quite blatant.  Here is an experience where Jesus experienced the latter.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:8-11).

Here is the temptation of material gain as an end in itself and of unfaithfulness.  If one ponders idolatry in all its forms one will see how so often in this world a giving aways of ones self to gods of this world happens.  This is why after so many profound devotional and theological statements in 1 John it ends with “little children guard yourselves from idols”.  This was not a distraction from what was shared but an encouragement to guard the beauty of knowing God’s love in an ongoing way.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain- – This is ironic because in a casual read of the gospel one can see many times that Jesus liked “getting away from it all” for teachable or pivotal moments of his ministry.  A lesson is that Satan may tempt us with an isolating way to bully us and make us feel alone.  With God, we are never alone.  In ongoing conversion as a Christian, it is good to take our own initiative to have a retreat with God for intentional reflection. Further, if we are finding ourselves alone in adverse circumstances we can pivot to God whose love is always there.

all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence– – There are three things that are considered transcendentals in the history of Christianity.  These are beauty, truth and goodness.  Beauty, when shown correctly, can draw the heart of someone to heavenly places.  As Christians, we are blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3).  If one continues to be grounded in the beauty of the divine beyond any beauty of our eyes we will not be shaken from the reflection of where we are truly seated.

All these I shall give to you– – Quite the salesman, Satan shows forth a counterfeit of grace.  This reminds me of someone who is a “loyal customer” of their drug dealer and he generously gives a “gift” on their birthday literally on their doorstep.  True joy is not for the drug dealer to give nor true power.  Satan is just one other kind of dealer.

The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve– – This is a gateway commandment of sorts and can be shown to have meaning in ones ongoing journey in Christ.  To worship God alone is fitting as the right boundary for mortals to the God who is not a type of species but just is. He is the I AM which is like “Something Other Than Being”.  God is not a genus of species that can be subjected to our mortal classifications.  The fidelity of worship based on this knowledge lends to a holy life with “these three things that abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  This is expanded on below.

The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent. Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD’ (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 2086).

To be rooted in ones life like this has a subsequent overflow.

The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1813).

Then the devil left him- – The formula on ones simplest means to deliverance from the devil is simple.  It is to “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  There are some who consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ but feel that the devil is after them.  If one believes that is really true, then it bears consideration on how much one is submitting to God in their daily living.

angels came and ministered to him– – Again, one is not truly alone if one is in relationship with God.  Even then, it is not God alone who accompanies you but angels of a celestial kingdom. In fact, if we let him, God can send us “angels” in the sense of human beings who make a catalyst for change.

One example I saw was in the area of addiction recovery.  As an intern in a substance abuse recovery program at the intensive outpatient level, there was a new member of a process group who was ambivalent about going to a 12 Step group that night. He cited  how “maybe I’ll go, maybe I won’t” due to feeling alone doing that.   The group leader, who was in recovery himself, said asked, “are you going to [expletive] go or won’t you”.  One volunteer after another in the group assured him that they would go with him.  He went with four new friends and engaged in recovery before the Higher Power of his understanding.  We commonly come to faith through community, abide in Christ in the context of full community and go towards a great gathering in the end before a loving and holy God.   When we restrict our worship to God alone it does not rob us but frees us.  The ministering of one to another is to reaffirm the greatness of that fact and the angels who come to Jesus serve as reference points of it.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

So to say no to Satan and all his empty promises is to say yes to God who is above all the darkness of this world.  This is God who is Love that we can always say yes to in continual conversion.  And with God and his kingdom properly factored, we are never alone.

Promotion Assumptions

uPromotion

Unreasonable expectations in any relationship can be detrimental. We can expect to much of others before the fact and when someone does not meet our expectations, a burnout in commitment can happen. Reasonable expectations and even right boundaries are essential for the relationship to flourish. When there are spontaneous and unreasonable expectations initiated by one party of the relationship to the other, the person imposed upon can feel rightly offended and anything but loved. In fact, that second person could feel like an object and less than appreciated for their dignity.

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

What is implied here is that Satan wants Jesus to presume a rescue as if God the Father was at his beck and call. To have that much personal power is a common pattern that appeals to humanity’s drive to have formulas and dictate the way things ought to be. This is instead humility before the God of the universe. We can walk by faith of what God the Father says and thus act but not act so that God reacts. God initiates in principle for the relationship and humanity responds. Christ in his humanity shows us an example to know the difference.

Then the devil took him to the holy city- – Jerusalem was the center of God’s kingdom. Satan would have Jesus think that being there should include an experience where holy things are about to and must happen because religious settings are an end in themselves. Yes, some places are holier than others, but God is spirit and those who worship him in the age to come will worship him in spirit and truth. In a contemporary context, when we go to any church we can fool ourselves that whatever we can make of ourselves there lacks a need for to examine ones conscience. With the wrong mentality we can be in the churchy moment and think too much of ourselves. A better informed conscience of a Christian views church as not an end but a means to an end. Such a view keeps a pure religion and sees holy things in their right context and approaches those holy things in a response of humility and not a reaction based on assumption.

made him stand on the parapet of the temple- – Some of this is a mystery that the Son of God would be “made” to stand anywhere. But what is important here is in a fundamental question people ask of themselves: Am I good enough? The temptation to Jesus is that he needs a coming out party to be fully realized. But in Jesus, we see him growing first in favor with God and then man (Luke 2:52). We also know that Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). If Jesus took glory from the Father then he would be making himself the show and the temple all the more a marketplace of personality. The irony is that Satan was almost trying to counterfeit the glory of God that had come in a cloud over God’s temple in the time of Solomon. Jesus was instead anchored on the glory of the Blessed Trinity to be manifest in the true, providential time. The believer in Jesus can likely be grounded in the hope that at the end of ones life one can have fulness in knowing Christ. In our lives there will be temptations to receive improper promotions or at improper timing. Wisdom born of humility knows the difference.

You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test- – In the heart of this quote Jesus uses is to not objectify God and have him under ones convenient measurement. To test God is to treat him as an object. The Holy Trinity consists of three persons with will and passions and are subjects to be respected. They are not incidental conveniences and thus Jesus collaborates with the other members of the Holy Trinity and does not presume on the relationships. What is implied in the quote is an understanding with “your God”. It shows balance between familiarity and respect. It is to take God on God’s terms and that is enough. And if that is instead our test of ourselves then that is the truth and is fitting we affirm it.

Deal Or No Deal?

Bread Cross

Nobody likes a cynic.  They suck the air of hope out of a room.  Hopeful people of reason, even if partly sympathetic to their points will not want to be around them.

Such is the encounter of Satan in the wilderness when he tempts Jesus.

The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written:‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:3-4).

Just because we can do something does not mean that we should.  In medieval times a common saying by those in power was “Might makes right”.  In the pride of man there can be even a presumption in the name of religion that God must approve of what we do or want to do or we are not as destined for greatness as we think.  Plus God has us as his favorite and therefore if use of our power on a whim is what we want then there is so be it.

If you are the Son of God—- Satan thinks Jesus is a mere man and Son of God is just for someone with a kingly bearing.  Good guess in terms of those of the line of David but wrong.  The deeper things of God are beyond simple logic.  If we discern the things of God with no humility we might occasionally see what is meaningful.  But to discern something of mystery that is tethered in the heavens?  Entirely a case of spiritual blindness.

One does not live by bread alone— Jesus is God become flesh on earth but in this response he makes it clear that he is far beyond earthly in what defines him.

but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God— There is a fuller context here.  Jesus was fluent in the Old Testament like any good rabbi would be.  Quoting this line is like a shorthand for a larger truth.

He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus is under no illusion that Satan, the father of lies, is about to convert.  But Jesus is Truth and speaks thus as a witness for all who want to discern who he is.  As we read this story there is a pointer to us that he is meant to be  the one who makes the unknown known and the unenlightened to be enlightened in grace.  How much grace?  All the grace! This is why Paul wrote of “the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ”.  What comes forth from God the Father that is pointed to by Jesus is a word of grace for those who acknowledge their dependence of Jesus.  The truth of Jesus in the face of Satan’s dare points to that very freeing life that we have in surrender to the Father’s will.  And Jesus in his humanity took with him to the cross that knowledge when he sweat blood and died on a Roman cross.

And for the reader here who would be a disciple of Jesus and takes a gulp about such reckless dependence, keep in mind that there is a word for you if you take up your own cross.  What it sounds like to encounter that word of grace is between you and God.  And it is good.