February 17, 2013

The Temptations

It being the first Sunday of Lent, I was thinking about the temptations. More specifically, I was thinking about the Holy Spirit. In Luke's account, which we read this year, Jesus goes into the desert 'full of the Holy Spirit.' As also in Matthew, it is the Spirit who leads him there. In Mark, the Spirit pushes Jesus into the wilderness.

I think it's easy to look at the temptations as a sort of initiation for Jesus, a test by which he becomes fully the Jesus Christ of the 'public ministry.' But Jesus is already full of the Holy Spirit when he goes into the desert; as the Word made flesh through conception by the Holy Spirit, to be full of the Spirit is to be already who he is and is going to be, fully and completely.

Satan (Mark)/the devil (Matthew and Luke) presents Jesus with the most insidious temptations of humanity: the lust for power, the drive to ensure one's own security rather than trusting in God, the tendency to let religion devolve into magic, the manipulation and unspiritual use of the Sacred Scripture. But Jesus' victory in this trial is not a preparation for his divine mission, but part of it. The tempations may have been part of the preparation for his public ministry--as were, no doubt, so many other events of his unrecorded life between his infancy and his baptism--but the temptations were not like a retreat in preparation for his divine mission, but an aspect of the mission itself.

As St. Augustine reminds us in the Office of Readings today, it is in the humanity that Jesus Christ borrows from us that he defeats the devil. In Jesus, then, that victory becomes ours. Sin, death, and the devil have all been defeated. The world is saved. "Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great!" (Revelation 18:2)

One time I heard someone say that the only thing that could save the world was spirituality. I thought to myself, 'Pelagian.' Sure, I knew what he meant, that the world could certainly use some spirituality, and it would probably help us to find ways to reform ourselves and do something more about the suffering of so many. But the world doesn't need to be saved; it is saved already. The devil has been defeated, the sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant has been made. It's just that often the world--and we ourselves in it--don't seem to be saved because we still struggle with the injuries left by original sin, and because we have not yet consented to the grace of receiving the eyes to see our redeemed selves, of letting go in order to be them.

But if we just let ourselves by truly human, we will find that this humanity of ours--because of Jesus Christ-- has already defeated every temptation, has already found itself full of the Holy Spirit in victory over the devil. The new creation is here, and we are invited to rejoice in it as new creatures. We have only to surrender to our own deepest identity as the Body of Christ we become as Church, to our own Christi-formity.

The Resurrection is the inauguration of this newly saved world. It is new each Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of the creation that begins with the Speech of God, 'Let there be light.' That light is the Risen Christ, the Word of God having passed through the misery we have insisted upon for ourselves with our violence and sin, proceeding from the Voice that is the Father as the illumination by which the creation is called into being.


Greg said...

Brother Charles, I did not understand your comment about the link between needing spirituality and Pelagianism.

Becoming aware of our spiritual nature is not the same as Pelagianism, correct?

Brother Charles said...

Greg: I just meant that to say that if we think of salvation as depending on our having some commodity or not, then we end up edging towards Pelagianism.

Good to hear from you! Pax et bonum!