“If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”

Clipboard01After Jesus decides to claim his new identity through baptism, the Scripture says he was led into the wilderness.  Actually, a more accurate translation would be that he was “thrown” into the wilderness.  I wonder if you have ever been involuntarily thrown into a wilderness.

Like all sojourners in the wilderness, he is particularly vulnerable because (a) he is alone, (b) he is physically at risk, and (c) temptations are delivered to him by the most powerful “tempter” in the universe.  The genius of these three temptations is that they represent all the temptations we will ever face.  The devil is quite bright.

The first temptation goes to identity.  The devil permits Jesus to assume nothing.  He does not frame the temptation with since you are the Son of God, but if.  Jesus now has a choice:  he can either accept the identity given to him in his baptism, “This is my beloved Son…” or he can entertain the devil’s temptation to question who he is.  There is no bottom to this question.  Once he begins to question his own identity, he has no place to stand.  Every other purpose for his life hinges on this question.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.”  This is our identity. The foundational temptation put to every human being is to question that identity.  Everything else we thought we knew starts to crumble.  We begin to think and feel that “we don’t know anything.”  We grasp at the opinions of others and find ourselves in thrall to people and institutions that do not deserve to define who we are.  If we are younger, we worry about our popularity and how we look.   If we are older, we worry about our popularity and how we look!  Plus we wonder about our own usefulness and purpose.

It is no good trying to paper over a deep sense of nothingness with a patina of positive affirmations.  That was as true for Jesus as it is for us.  The only process by which our identity can be established down to the bottom of our toes is to be thrown into some kind of wilderness where, in spite of every other voice, or even the total silence of other voices, we claim who we are.  When Jesus affirms the need to live by every word of God, he is giving priority to the word spoken to him at his baptism, that he is beloved.

The wilderness gateway is marked by this sign: “Find Here What You Have Always Feared.” When you are thrown into such a wilderness, an assault on your identity as beloved is the first temptation that you will encounter.   Take this seriously. You will either go deeper or you will go down.

Yet, yet, love never fails.

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

Raymond Carver