Reflection on the Gospel
“The devil took (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Matthew 4:8-11)
The third temptation is blatantly clear. Satan wants to seduce Jesus into idolatry using wealth and power. The tempter’s intent is to have Jesus turn away from God, worship Satan and serve earthly kingdoms. In several brief verses, this temptation portrays the cosmic battle between good and evil. The question at the heart of this temptation is what kingdom Jesus will serve. The first two temptations set the stage, but this is the culmination. Satan wants Jesus’ heart and soul, and wealth and power are the bait he uses to close the deal.
Jesus refuses to take the bait, rejects Satan and chooses to worship and serve God alone. His response to this temptation makes it clear that he rejects the wealth of earthly kingdoms. He chooses instead to set his heart on God and God’s Kingdom.
Wealth all too easily gets in the way of God. At best, it has the ability to distract us from giving God our full attention. At worst, we can become so caught up in the pursuit of wealth that it supplants God as the object of our worship.
By rejecting wealth, Jesus chooses the poverty of relying solely on God. That poverty requires him to open himself to God and receive everything as a gift. Because he owns nothing, Jesus has no need to spend his energy protecting his possessions. He has nothing to distract him from his relationship with God and the mission he is called to fulfill. He lives with the radical trust that God will provide whatever he needs.
Satan also tries to seduce Jesus with power, and Jesus’ response is intriguing. He does not respond by refusing power. He needs power to carry out his mission. His response is to choose the life-giving, redemptive power that comes from God and to reject the oppressive, dominating power that is a defining characteristic of earthly kingdoms.
Throughout his ministry Jesus uses power to touch people in their deepest need, proclaim the radical availability of God’s mercy, heal the sick and the broken, forgive those imprisoned by sinful ways and urge all those who will listen to give their hearts to God. He rejects the self-serving power that flows from his ego and the desire for control.
As we reflect on the story of Jesus’ temptation, we are called to examine our own response to wealth and power. What kingdom will we serve? Will we give ourselves – heart and soul – to the kingdoms of this world and strive for wealth and dominating power? Or will we devote ourselves to serving the Kingdom of God and use our power to liberate and serve?
One summer while I was in college, I worked on a ministry team that served a group of churches in West Michigan. One evening, a family from one of the churches invited all five members of our team to dinner. It was a great evening of hospitality. The surroundings made it clear the family was, but their hearts were rich in generosity. We shared a simple meal, played with the children, toured the small farm where they struggled to make ends meet and enjoyed good conversation.
Late in the evening, as we returned to the house after watching the sunset, homemade bread was just coming out of the oven. The smell was wonderful and the taste was even better. The five of us quickly devoured our first slice, and our hostess offered us another. I had just taken a bite from my third slice when I overheard the youngest child say to her brother, “I hope there’s enough left for breakfast.” I almost choked on the bread.
For me, that evening was a powerful experience of the difference between rich and poor. The family freely opened their hearts to us and shared generously from what little they had. They were delighted to have us as their guests. Our ministry team didn’t consider ourselves rich, but in comparison to this family we certainly were. It never occurred to us that this family would share their food until it was gone.
We might have been the ministry team, but on that evening they were the teachers. They gave us far more than dinner and homemade bread. They taught us a lesson about the deeper meaning of hospitality and why the poor find favor in God’s eyes.
What’s at stake in Jesus’ third temptation is rejecting wealth and embracing the Kingdom of God. For those of us who worry more about our investment portfolios than about whether we have bread for breakfast, this temptation can be seductive. Our wealth can tempt us to serve the kingdoms of this world and our own egos. When we face that temptation, we have to be able to let go of our wealth for the sake of the Kingdom. The more attached we are to our lifestyle and possessions, the harder this letting go becomes.
Questions for Reflection
- What kingdom do you have your heart set on serving?
- In what way are you devoted to serving the Kingdom of God?
- In what ways do you use your power to liberate others and serve those in need?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, you know how seductive power and wealth can be. In the midst of temptation, you had the strength to opt for freeing captives and serving the poor. Strengthen my resolve when wealth, power and the desire to build up my own earthly kingdom tempt me. Help me set my heart on the Kingdom of God. “Your Kingdom, your will be done . . . “