January 25 – January 25, 2018
Giving the Devil His Due (Reflection on Matthew 4:1-11)
Here we are again at the beginning of Lent. The start of a journey along the path that leads to Jerusalem, a festive welcome for Jesus, a frightening turn of events, his death on the cross and the glory of his resurrection. But it all begins here with Jesus' temptation in the desert. Drawn from the drama of Matthew 4:1-11, again this year, we will hear from Satan. He would like to stop this whole Easter thing from coming. And so he has asked for equal time to tell the story of Christ's temptation from his point of view. If nothing else, it should be an interesting presentation!
I love it when people are famished. Whether they hunger for food for their stomachs, or whether they need their egos fed, I’ve done some of my best work with food.
They call me the accuser, that is what Satan means. And I was not always the reviled character that has been made popular in myth, Halloween and Bible School. I was God’s go-to guy, I was God’s Attorney General. Hey, I was only trying to be helpful, that’s what I do. But… I fell out of grace after the Job incident. I’m still not quite sure how that all happened. I thought I had Job just where I wanted him. But that is another story.
My job was to challenge all human beings. None of you are up to the task of living the lives that God calls you to. And you know, my job is all too easy, just a little nudge, a slight suggestion, and you people fall flat on your faces. It just irks me so much, God has such a high opinion of all of you. And you all are so unworthy of that adulation. So I took it upon myself to show God how pathetic you all are. It doesn’t take much, and like I said, I do some of my best work with food.
After all, it was food that started my entire career. It does not matter what the fruit was, apple, pomegranate, prickly pear, or ugly fruit what mattered and what still matters is the promise of what will be yours if you eat of it. I love the story of Adam and Eve, because it illustrates just how easy it is to separate you from God.
You do remember the story, you teach it as if it is ancient history, but it is the story of every human being. And it is not about the food, it is about the promise. Why should you follow God’s rules, God’s laws, when you can be your own boss, make your own choices, be masters of your own fates. You don’t need God, if you take charge of your own lives, you can be just like God, heck, you can be your own God! That’s all I have to suggest, and in the end you walk away from paradise!
When I saw Jesus, famished after forty days in the wilderness, I figured I had him. He may have had a high opinion of himself, I know that God had a high opinion of him, he called him his beloved son. I figured it would not take much for me to bring him down. I knew I could nip this whole mission of his in the bud, and it would never flower.
You see, I know if I can get a person to move away from God’s plan and put them on the path of independence from God, I have done my job. It’s the short cuts, it’s the easy ways, it’s the paths of least resistance that will do you in every time. For every step you take away from living in God’s love, is a step further away from paradise. And once you are out on your own, you show your true colors. I see it every day on your news broadcasts, on your playgrounds, and in your homes. I see it in your workplaces. Taking what you want, living for your own gratification, thinking only of your own desires, trying to get on top no matter who you hurt. You know, the whole “what’s in it for me?” thing.
So when I met Jesus in that wilderness, all I needed to get him to do was to use that immense power of that divine mandate for something so mundane as bread. One loaf would have been fine, but I wanted him to make loaves of bread. Hey, there were stones everywhere. One of the hallmarks of the Judean landscape is stones. You think that they are ubiquitous here in New England? Well, wait until you see Israel.
You see, I was not just challenging him to make a cheep meal or himself, I figured that I could get him to make enough bread from the stones to feed all of the hungry peasants of Israel. After all that is how Rome kept the poor happy, just throw them some bread, and they are yours. Yeah, Jesus, make yourself happy, make your people happy, fill their stomachs and they will follow you anywhere.
Jesus, you don’t have to teach them anything, you don’t have to suffer at their hands, you don’t have to waste the next three years of your life on a bunch of sheep who will run from you at the first sign of trouble, at the first howl of the wolf. Just feed them, and they’re yours.
I said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."
But you know Jesus, he’s always got a snappy answer to everything, what does he come out with? "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Yeah, the word of God. Well not much to worry about there, you people have been choking on it, fighting over it, and misunderstanding it for thousands of years. I suppose I can take a little credit for that too.
So, Jesus wanted to play the Scripture Card, Well I knew I could play that game too.
So I took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple. There below us in the outer court, and in the city streets below that, milled the throngs of people. The pious who had come to make sacrifices, the women who waited expectantly for their husbands to emerge from with in the temple itself, the children who invented games and made mischief to while away the time until they returned home, the venders and street merchants selling everything from sacrificial animals to olive oil and wine, even some Roman Soldiers were there; it was a sea of humanity.
I was trying to be helpful, that’s what I do. He wanted the attention of the people, he wanted them to recognize his authority, he wanted them to listen to what he had to say, what better way to accomplish all that than to perform some great demonstration of his power and authority.
I offered him a short cut. Any fool could see the wisdom of it. Why slog away for years and years and sacrifice to get ahead when there is a short cut that will get you there more quickly and easily?
Why spend hours studying, when with far less effort – and far more free time to enjoy – you could just Google the test answers on your smart phone? Why invent the wheel again in your term paper when some one else has already done that, been there, and with two short commands – cut and paste – you can knock out an entire section?
Why spend decades toiling away for peace and justice in the world when in a matter of a few weeks of asymmetrical warfare you can depose a government, or for that matter impose one. The way of peace takes too long and at least in war, you can show immediate results.
Why put up with the sacrifices necessary to protect the earth’s environment when it is so much easier to go with the flow and bow to those who have huge financial interests, you know, those who make you afraid of change?
Why not tell a lie when telling the truth is difficult?
Why not vilify an enemy when confronting them with the truth in love may make you look weak and vulnerable?
Like I said, shortcuts, any fool can see the wisdom of it
But Jesus was not just any fool.
I told him, this is your big chance. Dazzle the crowds, astound the masses and there will be no end to your legend and the stories of you will travel to the far corners of the world. Grab their attention and they will be yours to COMMAND!
He wanted to play the scripture card, I gave him scripture. There we were standing on the pinnacle of the Temple and I 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 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Hey, Jesus, if that won’t impress the masses, if that won’t get their attention, I don’t know what will.
But alas, Jesus reacted as if I were using the scriptures for some dark demonic purpose. He just replied, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Now, I like Baseball. It is one of the only games where failure 65% of the time is considered admirable. But let me tell you, That day with Jesus, I did not like being 0 for 2. I had tried to appeal to his sense of hunger, and that of his people’s. I had tried to appeal to his desire for all to hear him and follow him, after all, I know that people like to be loved and admired.
You know, I was just trying to be helpful, that’s what I do.
I had one last trick up my sleeve. I could appeal to his ego.
So, I snatched him up again and took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. From here we saw not only Israel, but the entire Roman Empire, the lands that spread from there to the north and south, the tribes of Africa and Germania, and lands across the vast seas. Empires on other continents and people who spoke strange languages. There was all of the wealth and promise of every place on the face of the earth. All of the gold and silver, all of the livestock and the grains of the fields. All that is produced from the labor of craftsmen and artisans. Literally EVERYTHING that the world has to offer. I told him it was all his for the taking. I had been running this place for a long time and now, I was willing to give it all to him. Albeit, at a price.
Oh, there are so many who have settled for far less. You have heard the stories of blues guitarists who have sold their soul to me for fame and fortune. But in the end, it is much more subtle than that. It’s the spouse who is willing to trade away their family when they give into the temptation to stray. It is the person who is willing to trade away their relationship with their children for a quick ascent up the corporate ladder. It is the person whose apathy allows them to trade away a little of their integrity when they turn away when others are treated unjustly. It is in a society willing to trade away that justice and increase its wealth while it ignores the poor and the sick, making them fend for themselves, starving and dying in the streets.
It is because people are so far from God’s paradise, so far from the word of God, it is because they have chosen to live apart from Divine Love, that they don’t see that they are getting what they ask for at the price of following my lead. Like I said, It is all too easy, just a little nudge, a slight suggestion, and people fall flat on their faces.
Jesus wanted to be Lord of all. To rule in your hearts and minds. He wanted all people, all lands, all nations, to proclaim him King of Kings. And so, I offered him all that. Like I said, I’m just trying to be helpful, that’s what I do.
I said to him, "All the kingdoms of the earth I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
And that ingrate, that pompous holier than thou Jesus of Nazareth just cast all my offers aside with a swipe of his hand. He just said, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
God knows I tried. I tried to derail this Christ thing, this Savior mess before the train ever left the station. The last thing that I wanted was to have Jesus preaching that God loves you just as you are. You see, once people realize what God’s love is all about, it starts to draw them back to a real and deep relationship with God. That’s the last thing I need. If you start to return to living the way that God calls you to, you might even find your way back to living in a Eden. Then all my best efforts to show God how truly selfish and egocentric you can be will all be for naught.
Think clearly on it. You can be masters of your own fates, kings of your own universes. You can be like God. Heck, you can be your own God! Think Clearly on it.
Like I said, I’m just trying to be helpful, that’s what I do.
Close your eyes … now open them. It is now 2,000 years ago on a night two days after Jesus’ triumphant entry into the City of Jerusalem. You are all members of the Sanhedrin – the governing body of the Israelites. You have been called to an emergency meeting by the High Priest, Caiaphas. The city is crowded with Jews from all over the known world. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, and make their annual sacrifices to God at the Great Temple. Additional Roman soldiers have been sent to keep the peace in a part of the Roman Empire that rejects Rome’s rule.
Jesus, just this morning, has come into the Temple courtyard and driven out the money-changers and driven off the animals for the sacrifices.
All rise and honor the Chief Priest as he enters…
C: Good evening, I know that it is highly unusual for the Sanhedrin to be called into session after the sun has set, but we have business that just cannot wait another moment. I thank you all, Sadducees and Pharisees together, for your dedication to our people and our traditions. As high priest, I take my responsibilities very seriously and after the events that unfolded just this morning and not more than a few steps from here, I felt that I had no choice but to call this body together. I have only one item for the agenda tonight; How can we best respond to this upstart rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth? He has made a mockery of everything that we as the leaders of the people hold dear. And now he is threatening the very foundations of our faith.
N: My dear Caiaphas, may I speak?
C: Yes, I recognize one of the preeminent Teachers of the Law and one of the leading Pharisees in this body, Nicodemus.
N: Thank you, Caiaphas. I must say, you do have a flair for the dramatic. The city is packed with the Passover crowds and most of us still have our holiday plans to finalize, meals to prepare, and family traveling to be with us, and you choose this moment to call an emergency meeting? Jesus has been teaching throughout this area for over two years what suddenly makes this moment a crisis?
C: Well, You must not have been in the courtyard of the Temple this morning. I was not there personally... but many of those here tonight were. Just ask them. This Jesus came inside the temple walls and began to rage like a madman. He nearly created a riot. He overturned the tables where the people were changing their money to the Temple script. Coins were scattered everywhere. The reports I received described a scene of pure mayhem. And then the animals... doves escaping their smashed cages, sheep wandering confused, in all direction and the sellers of these sacrifices scrambling to retrieve their lost inventory. I tell you it was chaos!
N: I know full well what happened in the temple court today. And though I cannot defend Jesus' methods, I will remind this body that several times over the past few years some of us have raised the concern that this pre passover marketplace needed to be reformed. The exchange rates charged are nothing short of usury. Most of the people who come here for Passover are not people of means, but ordinary folks. And the prices charged for the sacrificial animals are outlandish. This is not a new debate, some of us have been calling for a change for some time now.
C: My dear Nicodemus, debate is fine, but insurrection is not. Prices and exchange rates we can talk about, but but we can never condone the kind of disruption to the function of the temple and this body that this prophets actions today brought about. You know as well as I do that with out the money that we collect from these activities, the life and work of this institution and this governing body would screech to a halt.
N: My good Caiaphas, I am sure that no matter what happens you will not appear before us any thinner!
C: With all due respect ... this is no joking matter. How do you think this will be viewed by Rome. If we can't keep the peace in our most holy of places, and if our tax revenue stream is interrupted, they will have all the excuses they need to send in more troops and quash even the limited freedoms they still allow us. We must maintain control. That is the only way that Rome will respect our leadership.
N: Respect from Rome!? Did they respect us when they marched their armies into the Holy City with their military stanchions proclaiming Caesar to be God? Did they respect us when they installed that half breed Harrod as a puppet king over us. did they respect us when...
C: They may laugh at our faith in the one true God. They may belittle our religion. But the Romans do respect one thing, and that is cold hard cash. What happened today threatens the very means by which we collect money. Money that is used here at the temple, and money that we can use to buy influence in Rome.
N: Your preoccupation with money is to be expected my dear Caiaphas, and your control over all activities in the Temple goes unquestioned, but you have failed to understand the needs of the people. Their lives are lived each day in pursuit of survival - food, shelter and making a meager living are foremost on their agenda. Politics? They are happy to leave that pursuit up to the Sadducees, Herod and Rome. You should take the time to see how they live and listen to their concerns. They do not share your enthusiasm or desire to play politics with Rome.
C: I don't claim to be a man of the people, especially that rabble that follows this Galilean Jesus, but I am a man who stands for up holding the institutions and practices of our faith. Tell me my dear Nicodemus, are you here to defend this Jesus?
N: Defend? No. But it is only fair - and true to our traditions, that an accused person have an advocate from among us. And since I have spent some time listening to him, I think that I as well as anyone am in a position to represent his point of view.
C: Well ... You are not the only one who knows him. Over the last two years, we have sent a variety of spies, some at the direction of this body and some that I have contracted with personally, to report back to me about his activities. From everything I can tell, he has dazzled the commoners with magic and empty words about love.
N: I must admit that the words and the deeds of power - miracles if you will - have been quite effective in the promotion of his message.
C: My dear Nicodemus, please don't talk to me about miracles. What do you think we are here, simple minded women? Half Breed Samaritans? There are plenty of magicians traveling the countryside who...
N: I had friends who were there when he and his disciples fed as many as 15,000 people - 5000 men alone - with only a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread and ...
C: Really, and God provided Manna - bread from heaven - for our ancestors, after he split the sea so they could cross. Tall tales of signs and wonders to mesmerize the simple minded.
N: You cannot deny that many of these miracles that have been reported have their basis in fact. It was just last week that you yourself met with this very body after Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. There were dozens of reports, and most by very credible witnesses. They came here and told us in minute detain how Jesus called him out of the tomb after he had been dead for several days. My dear Caiaphas, you cannot tell me that you don't remember.
C: Of course I remember, and I also remember that the majority of this body called for the arrest of this miracle man Jesus. I also recall that members of your own party joined in the chorus shouting "Death to Jesus"
N: It seems to me that the fear you have fomented in this body is completely irrational. I fail to see that Jesus is this great a threat. From what I have seen his actions of healing, feeding, teaching have only illuminated his motives - that of offering hope, acceptance and the love of God to the masses who struggle through each day of their lives.
C: Motive?! I think most of us can plainly see what his motives are. The Heretic made them clear enough just two days ago! The arrogance of this man, riding into town on a donkey. Does he think that he is the fulfillment of Zachariah's prophesy? Who does he think he is, the Messiah of God? The new King of Israel? No. I tell you that this man is the most dangerous man to have ever set foot in the temple. If the people proclaim him king and he decides to claim the throne of David, the might of Rome will descend on Palestine like an anvil plummeting from the walls of the temple.
N: If you have learned anything at all about Jesus, you would know that he rejects any notion that he will rule from the throne of David. He is not here to drive out the Romans, nor is he here to gain any earthly power. His message is solely about the Kingdom of Heaven and our God who he claims is his father.
C: Than not only is he a political threat, but his teachings are heresy. My dear Nicodemus, don't you see? He is the greatest threat to our faith, our Laws and our traditions since this temple was built! I will not allow this institution to be destroyed!
N: The only thing that will destroy it is if it becomes irrelevant. What Jesus is teaching is the law itself. The more I have listened to him, the more I have begun to realize that we as the leaders of the people have become so bogged down in the finer points of the law that we have failed to remember the spirit of the Law. Through the Law and the Prophets, God has called us to be a shining example to the world, a light unto the nations. And what have we done? We exclude those who we deem as unworthy or different, and we have become so concerned with the institutions and the sacrifices that we have ignored the reality behind them. Many times in the past the rulers of Israel had to be reminded of this fact by the prophets of old. I see Jesus as very much in their tradition. Everything he does seems to echo the strong corrective that the prophet Micah brought us from God, "He has showed you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
C: I am in no need of a lesson from the Teacher of the Law! How dare you to presume to instruct me! Tell me my dear Nicodemus, Have you become one of his disciples? Have you come here today to spread his lies? Are you here to convert us to be his disciples?
N: My Good Caiaphas, you should know me well enough by now. You know that I will not be intimidated by your hyperbole, or the volume or tone of your voice. No, I am not one of his disciples, I do however have a naturally inquisitive mind and it is my life's vocation to be a seeker of the truth. Therefore I have taken the time to listen to this man and to question him. I must say that I find much to agree with in his message and I think that we all could gain from listening to him.
C: Oh, listen to him we will. This body has called for his arrest. I believe that he must be made an example of and therefore I believe we cannot wait another moment. He must be arrested this week brought before us for trial and then we must find a way to put him to death.
N: I am sure I am only wasting my breath in telling you that these actions will not have the effect that you desire.
C: Oh, they won't will they? By eliminating the threat from this Jesus, we will be reminding Jews from all over the world that we are the ones who interpret the Law and guide the people. And we will be showing Rome that we can manage our own internal affairs.
N: You are looking at him as a seditionist, the people out there see him as a savior, you are looking to destroy him, and they have looked to him for hope and love. How easy it is that power blinds truth. You, my Good Caiaphas, you and many in this assembly can close your minds, ears and eyes and remain blind leaders. But I choose to listen, see and experience the word of God. For me, that word comes from the Law and the prophets - the scrolls that we hold sacred and it may just be found in that which flows from the mouth of Jesus, who claims to be the Son of God.
C: ENOUGH! Nicodemus, you are walking a dangerously fine line. Jesus must be arrested, It must happen this week before the Passover.
N: You know what happened at the temple this morning, the mayhem, as you termed it, will be nothing compared to what will happen if you try to arrest him. If you want to show Rome that you can keep the peace, the riot that will ensue upon his arrest will not sent the type of message you intend.
C: The it must be done quietly, away from the rabble that follows him. Maybe at night... under the cover of darkness... away from the temple. [turning to the congregation - the Sanhedrin] do any of you have any ideas? And suggestions?
Member of the Sanhedrin: Caiaphas, I met a man today named Judas, he says he is one of Jesus' disciples. I think he may be of help.
C: Good, you must introduce me to him tomorrow...