Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The readings for Lent commence with a dark energy even the Coen brothers would find it difficult to match, an apocalyptic-styled standoff set in the barren wild. Jesus and Satan. Forty days of wilderness and hunger, forty days of isolation and deprivation as the Tempter accosted, day and night, the weary Son.
In the sulfur-laced war room of Paradise Regained, Milton’s demons suggest the temptation lead with alluring women and all the tawdry passions, but Satan believed noble motives gave him better odds. In the temptation to turn stone to bread, for instance, the Tempter appears as a shepherd and appeals to Jesus’ mercy. If Jesus would do such a feat, pleaded the shepherd-devil, then Jesus would “comfort us with food, which we wretched people seldom taste.” Our attempts to know what is “good” apart from the God who is goodness itself will inevitably twist themselves inside-out.
Writer and director Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal sets one of the temptations in a penthouse overlooking the Montreal skyline. The Tempter here is a tycoon of the entertainment industry urging Jesus to leverage his notoriety and publish a book that he guarantees will hit the bestseller list. As a writer who’s never likely to see such a list unless I pay $2.50 for a Sunday Times, I’ll admit this scene stung a little.
Jesus, we know, refused every offer. With each answer, Jesus returns to the words and ways of the Father. This is the same Father who, at Jesus’ baptism only days earlier, thundered from the heavens: “You, my dear Son. You’re beloved. And I’m crazy about you.”
I suspect that refusing temptation’s hollow (yet very powerful) siren call has much less to do with grit and rugged resistance and a lot more to do with having ears to hear the voice of love, having a heart supple enough to receive God’s delight flooding toward us.