“The Great Three P’s”
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 9 May 2014
Typically a message on this passage from Matthew about the “temptation of Jesus” is dealt with in a very literal way. Jesus would be said to have headed out into the wilderness for a period of self-exploration and meditation, or called out to the wild by the devil himself. We would be told that it was really a forty-day fast, after which Lent is designed, for Jesus to learn about himself. As kids, I, and maybe you as well, would have been shown pictures of Jesus, with the devil talking to him, being taken on a grand tour. First, being told how hungry Jesus was with the devil saying, “Come on, man, you can make the rocks turn to bread.” Then to the pinnacle of the Temple where he could see the whole city, and then to a high place where power over the entire kingdom tempted him. In each case, Jesus would beat the tempter at a game of, “Quote the Sacred text.”
Well, I have a problem with the ‘typical’ view. It is not my artist’s creative side that draws me into wanting to take a different look at this. It is my reasonable and practical side that shouts in my ear – this is a real man “life is not like that.” I want to see the people, the authors of the Sacred text as real people, writing about real events. I think the story is, a story, told by story tellers, with the intent to help us understand that Jesus faced the same issues and struggled with the same issues that we do. The story has to be told concisely but those desires, those longings, and those temptations; in real life, they sneak up over extended periods of time.
The reality is, the trickster, the tempter, or this personified image of evil called the devil, makes the story-telling a little easier; but in life every day, these things that get us into trouble are never presented quite so simply. These “temptations” (if you will allow that word) do not come to us in such grand and obvious ways. It would be too easy to stay out of trouble, too easy to always do the right thing, too easy to identify up-front if it was that obvious. There is no devil coming up to us and saying, “I am going to get you to want something that is bad for you and all humanity.” No, see the problem is, these longings for things, or the sense that the power one has can be used for gain, the feeling of entitlement that comes with prestige . . . these things sneak up on us in very subtle and innocuous ways.
I think that the dominant question in this passage – and the one that I believe it addresses – is this: These three temptations, the three “P’s” I like to call them, power, possessions, and prestige; they are elements that work at separating us one from the other – in very distinct, yet very subtle, ways. The story, remember it was written some 30 or more years after Jesus’ death, wants to try to explain to us that this great man, this charismatic teacher and story teller, also had to deal with the same issues that face powerful people every day. How did Jesus cope with those three issues that are the principal items that separate us one from the other? The authors of the texts and those who were out proclaiming the good news needed to be able to answer the kinds of questions that people face every day. This story, in its grand storytelling form, refers to the issue with the same storytelling fashion Jesus used to teach points all the time. It is a story that proclaims that Jesus was real, that he did face the same issues that can lead us to acquire more than we need, build ourselves up into something larger than we are, or use the influence and power we have in inappropriate ways. These are separating ‘events’ that people of influence must come to terms with every single day.
What I think we ought to be trying to understand through this passage is the importance of understanding just how difficult it can be and how incredibly important it is for persons who are offered positions of power, or given prestige of leadership, and have the opportunity to own many possessions; to keep from abusing that which…we have. Power can separate, prestige can separate, possessions can…separate; while there is nothing wrong with any of them, they can, all of them, lead to isolation and separation. It is good then for all of us to learn that, know that, see it, and be aware of our need to work very hard to be and stay connected with one another, to keep ourselves “grounded” with a realistic self-image.
It becomes, I believe, a story about preventing ourselves from being disconnected, by creating a heightened awareness of what it is that can pull us apart.
Power that one person exerts over another, oppresses, diminishes and reduces the other person to a lesser being.
Prestige, the boasting of one’s own position, the lifting up of one’s self, the self-aggrandizing, can be all too easy to get caught in because it feels good, but it is a tool that divides. And …
Possessions can tend to set ourselves apart as different from or better than others, because of what we have.
Arthur Waskow, in the reading from God Wrestling Round 2, says, “If our hearts are filled with love, our minds with accurate planning, our hands with steadiness and strength, our souls with openness, then any act we do will be a mitzvah, (a moral deed performed as a religious duty) – it will strengthen the great Web of all connections, it will make God more fully God. And any act of connection-making that we do will enliven life.”
We ought to be about seeking connections in all aspects of life. Our time – of identifying ourselves by our differences and by that which has divided-out, should end. We ought to be finding more and better ways to seek the similarities rather than the differences. It is only in the places where we find commonality that we can truly make connections. It is in connecting with people across our religious, cultural, and ethnic differences that we build the roads to peace. There, on the common ground, where power, prestige and possessions no longer divide – there is where we can come into closer union with one another. There, wherever we build connections, we can be a better community.
Blessings friends, on your journey.