Jesus was famished when the devil came to him. He wasn’t just hungry. It’s not like he just worked through lunch for a day or two. He was famished, which shares a root with the word “famine,” which is a word that means there is no food. It’s a fitting word, because Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
Then the devil came to him, tempting him to force his surroundings to meet his needs, though it wasn’t in their nature.
You see, there is a deeper issue than hunger Jesus is addressing here. Stones aren’t bread, not even if he could force them to be.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
God’s word can feed us on a deeper level than food. For we do not live on bread alone but “on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The second temptation is instructive as well. Even at the pinnacle of the temple, temptation is close at hand.
In other words, reaching the highest levels of any religious structure ensures only that you have that much further to fall when you test the boundaries of your support.
We tend to think the opposite — that those in power enjoy a certain level of security or power or privilege that other people don’t have. Those at the top are sometimes tempted to step out on their own power, listening to voices that aren’t necessarily from God.
Prayer and fasting, however, give us all the strength to stay grounded, firmly planted in the soil God gives us to work.
The final temptation is the ability to have power and influence beyond the scope of human possibility.
Here the devil takes Jesus and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, offering him uncomparable political power in exchange for a simple act of worship.
But Jesus resisted, because he knew it’s better to be famished in the kingdom of God than in first place anywhere else.
The temptations Jesus faced were temptations to transcend the limitations imposed by mortality.
Yet he chose to be fully human — to live within the boundaries set by flesh and blood. He chose to experience hunger, uncertainty and powerlessness — not because there is something virtuous about those things but because the human experience includes hunger, uncertainty and powerlessness.
His temptations are our own: to transcend these limitations and embrace a superficial existence rather than the fullness of life attested to in Scripture.
The second reading, from Luke, testifies to the mission that Jesus states is at the heart of his earthly ministry. It’s a Jubilee vision, a prophetic understanding that seeks to set the world right.
The fulfillment of Jesus’ vision is the fulfillment of the Jubilee: The prisoners are freed, the blind see, the year of the Lord’s favor is announced as his people embrace a way of living that makes it unnecessary to turn stones into bread, for there is enough for everyone merely by sharing.
This is the bread we feast on by fasting. This is food the disciples know “nothing about.” It has to do with sharing our bread, unapologetically proclaiming freedom to captives — even captives of sin — understanding that the blind can often see more clearly than those of us with our vision intact.
Fulfillment on this side of Eden is illusory at best. We glimpse it, we chase it, and it turns to dust. But as we embrace the limitations imposed by our humanity, as we face our broken brothers and sisters, as we share our bread and our struggles in our quest for jubilee, we find that Christ is exposed within our fellowship.
Patrick Nafziger works alongside his wife, Christine, as co-pastor of Millersburg (Ohio) Mennonite Church.