03.06.2022 First Sunday of Lent


Temptations of Christ

Sandro Botticelli

Sistine Chapel 1481/82

Top left: Jesus and the Devil stand in front of a forest of oak trees.

The Devil disguises himself with a beard and holds a rosary and a pilgrim’s staff in his left hand. However, we can still recognize him by the wings of a bat and the feet of a vulture. The Devil proposes to Jesus to turn stones into bread after Jesus did not eat for 40 days.


Top middle: Jesus and the Devil stand on top of the Temple.

The Devil asks Jesus to jump from the top of the Temple as angels will catch him anyway.


Top right: The Devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world from

the top of a mountain.

He promises Jesus all these kingdoms if he worships the Devil.

After Jesus refused all three temptations, the Devil drops his disguise and falls from the mountain.

The Angels on the top right come to help Jesus and have prepared a table with wine and bread.


Middle left: Jesus seems to explain to the three (or four) angels behind

him the ritual that is going on in the fifth scene in the foreground of this painting.

The Angel with the green robe holds a lily and is probably the Archangel Gabriel.


Foreground: A large group of people is gathered around an altar that

stands in front of the Temple.

Two people stand in front of the altar; the High Priest on the left and a young man dressed in white on the right. While it is not entirely clear what this scene represents (even Vasari *did not know), it seems likely that they are engaged in a blood offering ritual. The High Priest dips a myrtle branch into a bowl filled with blood. It is not unlikely that the young man with the bowl represents Jesus, in the role of a priest, as all frescos on the North, South, and East wall of the Sistine Chapel depict Moses or Jesus in the central scene. Another explanation for this scene is that it represents a purification sacrifice for a man that was cured of leprosy.


“Boticelli’s Sistine Frescoes” - Susan Noel Nutson


* Painter and Art Historian of the Italian Renaissance


LECTIO

Luke 4: 1-13

1“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread’. 4 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’’.

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours’. 8 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’’.

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’’. 12 Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’’. 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time”.



MEDITATIO

Context

Before Jesus began his public ministry of preaching and healing, He is led by the Spirit to the wilderness of Judea for a forty-day period of preparation. The Palestinian desert is not a sandy waste, although the parts around the Dead Sea are utterly barren. But most of the Palestinian Desert is semi-arid with some vegetation, especially in winter. It was a dangerous place, unchartered and inhabited by wild animals and bandits. The wilderness was believed to be the haunt of demons[1]; and here Jesus met the devil.


Jesus’ forty days in the desert triggers an association with Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus. The Acts of the Apostles describe these as years of testing and failure for the People of God[2]. Jesus is also tested in the desert but remains faithful.


Reflections on the Temptations of Jesus

This is the most sacred of stories, for it can have come from no other source than Jesus’ own lips. At some time afterwards, He must have told his Disciples about this most intimate experience of his soul … He must have been so close to them!


This experience which Jesus shared also reveals that He himself must have been conscious of his exceptional authority. The temptations were relevant only to a man who had unique authority and who also had the power to decide how to use it.


The Temptations

In the account of the temptations in the Gospel of Mark, only the fact that Jesus was tempted is recorded. But Matthew and Luke describe the three temptations, the second two of which are transposed in their respective Gospels. It is thought that Luke was likely to want to place the temptation in Jerusalem as the climax to his account. We must not think that these temptations came and went in order, like scenes in a play. Rather, we have Jesus wrestling with the problem of how He could win men, constantly for forty days. We know ourselves that when we resist the devil, that is not always the end of it. He comes back, trying to find another way to turn us away from God - and so he did with Jesus. He left him, as Luke says until an “opportune time”. This was a long battle which did not cease until the victory of Christ on the Cross.


The First Temptation

If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread”. What an appealing prospect when Jesus had been fasting! But the real temptation from the devil was that if Jesus wanted people to follow him, He had the power to attract them by providing material things. Use his authority for his own purposes, rather than to be the Messiah, as planned by his Father. But back came Jesus saying: “It is written that man shall not live on bread alone[3].

William Barclay posits[4] that the task of the Church is not to produce better conditions for mankind, but its real task is to produce new men: and given the new men, the new conditions will follow.


The Second Temptation

Jesus is being invited by the devil to view from a high place all the kingdoms of the world, saying “Worship me and all this will be yours”. This an attempt to give to someone else the allegiance that belongs to God alone. The devil was saying in effect ‘I have got people in my grip. Don’t set your standards so high. Strike a bargain with me. Just compromise a little with evil and men will follow you’[5]. Back came the answer of Jesus “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only “, again referencing Scripture. In any event the devil is a liar in claiming that the power and the glory are at his disposal. Many before and after Jesus have fallen for this temptation.


There is a constant temptation to seek to win men by compromising with the standards of the world. GK Chesterton said that the tendency of the world is to see things in an indeterminate grey, but the duty of the Christian is to see things in black and white. The essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle, using the sterner language of his time, said “The Christian must be consumed by the conviction of the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.”


The Third Temptation

The third temptation sees Jesus being led in his mind to the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem, with a sheer drop of 450 feet down into the Kedron Valley below, knowing that He would be protected from any harm. But Jesus, again referring to Scripture[6], said “Do not put the Lord your God to the test[7]. Jesus could see quite clearly the dangers of sensational actions, attracting attention in the short term but never sustainable in the long term. The hard way of service and of suffering leads to the Cross, but after the Cross to the crown[8].


In Summary

This Gospel is intriguing because, from a simplistic point of view, why would Jesus, the Son of God, struggle with the temptations of the devil. But of course, Jesus was also human and it is his humanity that the devil seeks to manipulate. All the more impressive that Jesus resisted the devil in all three temptations firmly and without delay. Temptations such as these would be a long battle for Jesus and for those who followed him.


ORATIO

Psalm 37: 1-7


“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes”.



CONTEMPLATIO


What temptations do we have in our life?


Do we know ourselves well enough to be on guard against the temptations we are susceptible to?


Can we learn to recognize temptation? It may come under the guise of something that seems good.

o we take preventative action, avoiding situations where temptation will arise; can

we walk away?


We try to avoid becoming over tired; it weakens us and makes us more susceptible to the deceptions of the devil. Rest is important for our spirituality.


We call on God for strength and endurance: God is faithful, He will help us to turn away from sin if we ask that of him.


Let us pray regularly as Jesus taught us “… And lead us not into temptation”, not just when we are tempted, but constantly seeking God’s help in the battle with temptation.


Let us keep Jesus front of mind always to consider how He resisted temptation, how He suffered and died to save us, all out of love for us. Let us make it our stated goal to resist temptation, all out of love for him.


The Battle with Temptation

Jesus had a battle with temptation and resisted it, his reward being to do his Father’s will and to die on the Cross.


Temptation can lead to sin, yet Jesus never sinned while experiencing the same temptations as we do.


We must be aware of the devil; he is part of our lives. Our “unprompted” thoughts spring from his guile and scheming.


Let us not be lulled into a false sense of security that our lives hold no attraction for him.

When we recognize the devil, say “Away from me, Satan” (Matthew 4: 10)

 

[1] Isa 13:21 [2] Acts 7: 39-43 [3] Deuteronomy 8:3 [4] BARCLAY, William, The Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Luke[5] Ibid. [6] Deuteronomy 6: 13; 10: 20 [7] Deuteronomy 6: 16 [8] BARCLAY, William, The Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Luke

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