Jesus and Temptation in Luke 4

ilya-repin-follow-me-satan-temptation-of-jesus-christRabbi Yeshua and the Holy Scriptures

In this consideration I want to tell something about how Gospel of Saint Luke is dealing with biblical text, or – even better – how Our Lord, Rabbi Yeshua, is using the Scriptures. I’ll take only a short passage on temptation in the desert, all Christians are experts in, and my contribution is only to remind about some relevant points.

All three synoptic reports describe the role of the Spirit who is the leader (πνεῦμα Matt 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1 2x). The Gospels make it also clear that being led by the Spirit doesn’t mean simply an exalted life but to be exposed to the Enemy of God’s intentions, and to go through trials. In Luke the development is clear. The Greek ἄγω – “to lead” shows how deep the incarnation goes, how far is the Son of God coming down to be one with us in the most delicate steps of our human life. Jesus allows to be led by his evil tempter. The first part of the temptation-passage is marked by leading of the Spirit (Luke 4:1), the second and third has ἄγω (Luke 4:5.9) for the devil, where Jesus is the object. That is probably why this passage plays an important role in the spiritual doctrine of Ignatius of Loyola and his discernment of the spirits.

Luke is following Mark’s idea that it is not one occasion alone but it is forty days that Jesus is exposed to the pressure of temptation. We know that for Luke “forty days” will in the future be also the time of Jesus giving evidence that he is alive in the Acts (1:3).

The threefold temptation with bread, adoration an the holy House of God is an “addition” reaching over that period of forty days and giving synthesis of what was going on. Therein Luke’s Gospel is in accordance with Matthew where we find a clear hint to the first connection with the Scriptures.

In the Gospel of Matthew there is not only general idea of “forty days” but the wording ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα (“forty days and forty nights”) reminds on the second time Moses was on Sinai, and on Elijah, walking to the that same God’s mountain.

In the Exodus there is a description of Moses fasting (Exod 34:28), differing from the first prolonged visit to Sinai (Exod 24:18). Moses is afterwards twice remembering it in his own witness in Deuteronomy giving his last will (Deut 9:11.18). For Elijah it is clear that he is fasting, when we read about his journey with the strength of one double meal at the beginning of forty days and forty nights (1 Kings 19:8).

Second, well known and most important use of the Scriptures are the answers Jesus gives to the different trials.

The Structure of the Gospel-text is clear. The power of divine word Jesus repeats is so strong that it finishes one diabolic attack. After a quote of the Scripture, introduced by γέγραπται (“it is written”) the evil tester is leaving the first theme and is going over to something else.

The dialogue is defined with two γέγραπται (Luke 4:4.8) in the first and second temptation, and then with two κύριον τὸν θεόν σου (Luke 4:8.12) giving this time not only the introduction but the contents of the Scripture. This structure moves the dynamics of this text towards the centre in God, both times invoking the Most holy Name יהוה, translated in Greek as κύριος.

First temptation of stone and bread, usually explained with God’s power to create Abraham’s children out of stone (cf. Luke 3:8) and Jesus making bread not for himself but for hungry multitudes (Luke 9:12-17.has something more important for our case. Rabbi Yeshua – according to both, Luke and Matthew – is exposed to a diabolic attack on his mind and heart when the tester is trying to command him what to say. We read the imperative “εἰπέ” (λέγω – “to speak” Luke 4:3; Matt 4:3) in both versions. The Opponent is trying to dictate to Son of God what to tell. This way the report gives even more significance to the word of God as opposed to the word of Satan.

Different from devil’s interest to see the mighty word of Creator able to turn over stone to bread, Rabbi Yeshua is pointing out the word from the Deuteronomy and the intention of the Scripture to see what does a human being need to live, what is the food for our human life (“…not by bread alone will live the humankind, but by everything that comes from the mouth of Yahweh will the humankind live.” Deut 8:3).

2. The traditional second temptation is showing the lie in the essence of diabolic actions. Coming back to the first attack through the mouth of the serpent at the beginning of the Scriptures, where God’s warning: “You will certainly die” (Gen 2:17) is turned upside down to: “No, of course you shall not die” (Gen 3:4), the Father of Lie is offering two illusions.

The first one is the show of “all the kingdoms of the world” in one single moment of time (Luke 4:5). This point is strengthened by Matthew and the pure imagination of the mountain so high that one can see the whole world from there. We are aware that it is not possible to see the surface of a globe from one stand point alone.

The second lie is obvious in Luke when the Attacker states before Jesus that unto him is given “the power and the glory” of the kingdoms (Luke 4:6).

For the second time Rabbi is taking Holy Scriptures effectively for his defence. He is quoting now from the sixth chapter of the Deuteronomy. But there is a slight adaptation in this the point. The original Hebrew wording: ירא (to fear) given in the Greek Bible as φοβέω (Deut 6:13) meaning the holy fear of God, Jesus is turning to προσκυνέω (Luke 4:7) in order to counter the satanic “adoration” (προσκυνέω 4:8) in the temptation.

His way of fruitful applying the Word of God shows also the fulfilment and enhanced sharpness: “him alone you must serve” – says Jesus. You are to be servant only to God. The word μόνος is a clarifying addition of Rabbi Yeshua to the Scriptures (“Yahweh, your God, you shall fear, him you shall serve” Deut 6:13a). Both – προσκυνέω as well as μόνος – conform to Luke and Matthew.

3. The third temptation is double sacrilege. Both are evident. One is the attempt to abuse the Holy House of God for a diabolic show opposed to the Son of God. In the essence it is not without intention to attack his very life. This could be the first reason why Luke is placing this theme to position three, taking distance to Matthew’s order. The command βάλε σεαυτόν (Luke 4:9, the same wording as Matt 4:6 in the “second temptation”): “Throw yourself down!” is not only the last attempt to give orders, but a treacherous call for suicide. The “Murderer from the start” (John 8:44) is without mask in his demand: “Finish your life” – And it was the life Jesus was from the first temptation trying to foster and sustain adequately using the Scriptures.

The extreme badness and perfidy is at the same time part of the text-structure in Luke 4. After two γέγραπται called out by Rabbi Yeshua to apply protection of the holy Word of God, the third γέγραπται (Luke 4:10) is a part of the diabolic aggression. The Enemy dares to take over the method of Jesus. The choice of Luke gives the greatest importance to this third and the highest step of gradation. Dark and awful abuse of divine Word is an everlasting warning not to exploit Scriptures against their own intention, but to pay respect and be responsible and honest before the Holy Text.

How hollow and false is the misuse of the Scripture in the mouth of the Tempter shows the wording of the Psalm 91:12. In the Psalm there is a clear description of human walking on the ground: “you will not dash your foot against a stone”. The Psalm gives no idea of jumping or flying or throwing oneself. The misuse of the Word of God is not only evil and unholy, but is a poor mistake by itself.

The solution of the intense dynamics Luke is giving by a new term. Rabbi Yeshua, although once more quoting the same Book of Deuteronomy, gives now the crucial new introduction. As opposed to γέγραπται for the final temptation there is an εἴρηται – “it is said” (Luke 4:12) instead of “it is written”.

Jesus is giving a clear evidence of calling upon the living tradition, creating fundament for Pauline distinction in Second Corinthians: “not letter, but Spirit” (2 Cor 3:6).  The introduction “it is said” calls to mind more vividly how and what Moses was saying giving his testament on the last day of his life, giving special tone to what the Lord “has written for our instruction” (cf. Exod 24:12).

The similar tendency seems to be in the contents of the scriptural quote. Jesus is taking over the warning not to tempt God from Deut 6:16. But in the Gospels (Luke 4:12; Matt 4:7) the Hebrew original is changed according to the translation of the Greek Bible, rendering the verb in singular instead of plural. In this way it is personal, not only collective: “Thou shall not put your God to test!” (Luke 4:12), In Luke’s passage this is a direct and effective command to end the testing.

Niko Bilić, SJ


Heart of a mother

The spirituality of Mother Mary for today

The well-known biblical account about the wedding in Cana of Galilee shows how strong is the influence of Mother Mary. With her action she makes the disciples come to the faith in Jesus: “His disciples believed in him” – the Gospel says in the end. (John 2:11).

It is the person of Mother that causes that to the disciples at the beginning (John 2:2), there come brothers (2:12) of Jesus at the end. Here is already the power of the person who will afterwards remain in the midst of disciples in unanimous prayer for the Spirit (Acts 1:14).

It is her contribution in Cana, that – according to the judgment of the steward – the man brings forth the good, that he was keeping for himself until then (Jn 2:10). A mother makes it possible.

In a very practical thing she shows not only that she has an eye for the need of people, but also that her attentive heart recognizes in this everyday situation one opportunity to realize the Word of God. For her son Jesus she uses the words the Pharaoh said in the era of great famine throughout the country for Joseph. The people came seeking help and then they heard from the Pharaoh who has the rescue: “Do whatever he tells you!” (Genesis 41:55). The Virgin Mary at Cana recognizes in her son – despite his harsh response – the universal savior.

She is a woman for whom the angel said from the beginning that she is full of grace (Luke 1:28). Thus it is clear that a pure heart – which Master will later on declare blessed – is not an empty heart. She has found grace (Luke 1:30) – the angel said, pointing out where is the source of being full of grace. At the same time this is a proof that her search was successful.

This does not mean an exclusion of human emotions. The angel saw her fear – that’s why he said: “Do not be afraid!” (Luke 1:30).

To understand the language of the angel does not mean to have all the solutions and answers in advance. Mary was asking herself about what the greeting at the beginning meant (Luke 1:29) And it is in this reflection that a reflectivity begins, which is the nucleus of Ignatian spirituality and expresses such a simple and important truth: Not only in the Word of God, not only in the sacraments and miracles, not only by special enlightenment and personal revelation, but in that what happens to us in life, we can recognize the will of God. In our experience God reveals himself to us.

What Mary had started with the question about the greeting, she then continued by treasuring the events in her heart to ponder them (Luke 2:19.51).

To receive the message from heaven, to see God with the pure heart does not mean to have everything done. The mother of Jesus remained open to the future. The question: “How shall this be?” (Lk 1:34) is valid also for Bethlehem and Golgotha.

The mother’s heart is close to us because she knows the hardship of Caesar’s order, which make her go for a journey in the last days of her pregnancy. Can we compare it with what we sometimes have to suffer concerning the authorities and official matters.

The heart of the Mother is so modern because Mary knows the bitter conflicts, the disrupted communication and misunderstandings. Her bridegroom Joseph had his own plans and he wanted to leave her (Matt 1:19); she went away at the beginning of her pregnancy (Luke 1:39). Later on they were looking for their twelve year old son with pain for three days. What would it mean today if parents would not know for an hour – or even for a whole night – where is their child? And then the mother got an answer to her question which by itself causes a misunderstanding. When she said that she and his father were looking for him (Luke 2:48), she heard the strange answer that he should be with his father (2.49). Therefore, the heart of the Mother is prepared at Cana and the strange word: “Woman, what do have I with you!” does not stop her.

p. Niko Bilić, SJ


The faith of Samson’s mother

Judges 13 and the context

We are right when we complain that we live in bad times if we look at the world today. The Bible has a full understanding for the situation like that. The mother of the famous Samson in the Book of Judges lives in the time of 40 years ongoing oppression by the Philistines.

How many times do we experience ourselves as nameless among the people we live with and in the world around us? We miss recognition of our person and of our deeds. Samson’s mother is a woman with an important role in the Bible – almost like Mother Mary in the New Testament (see the painting: Tintoretto, Annunciation to the wife of Manoah,1555-1558, oil on canvas) – and yet she remains in the background, forgotten and unnoticed also in our spirituality. We do not know her name, the Holy Scripture doesn’t mention it.

The wife of Manoah

In the biblical story she is defined in terms of belonging. She is wife of Manoah (Judges 13:2). It is the relationship to her husband that creates her identity. She reports both times about the angel who came to her (Judges 13:6.10). She has a good husband who prays for both of them; she is present in his prayer: “Teach us, what we are to do!” he says (13:8). Her loyalty makes him follow her when angel appeared second time (13:11) – she is his leader.

Samson’s mother is to compare with Mother Mary because she understands the language of the angel; she is so attentive to the Word of God that she can communicate with him and perceive God’s message.

If we consider that Manoah recognized the angel only after the sacrifice (13:21), it seems that his wife was much quicker because from the beginning, in her first report, she talked already about the “angel of God” (13:6). She is the one giving wise and precise logical interpretation to comfort her scared husband (13:23).

Samson’s mother is in the list of biblical women who don’t have children – together with Sarah, Hannah and Elisabeth. This is their painful disadvantage which is for the Bible not kept in the secrecy. God’s messenger is immediately referring to it and this is where the work of God begins for Samson’s mother (Judges 13:3).

A fruitful spirituality

She is a woman who is invited to watch and keep guard about her nourishment (13:4). It is important what it is that will nourish her. The ancient and proven spiritual experience tells us how decisive it is what the food for our souls is. In Samson’s history this is a contrast to the way of seducing and driving him crazy which he will twice experience (“coax your husband!” Judges 14:15; 16:5). Samson’s mother remains sober and wise.

Her unity with Manoah is constant: They are together for the sacrifice (13:19). They are together when Samson is telling them about his first love (14:2) and when he brings honey (14:9). She is with her husband also when familiar confidence begins to fail: Samson does not tell them about the mighty deed of the Spirit (14:6) and where he had the honey from (14:9). He does not reveal to his father and his mother the solution for the riddle (14:16) which he will at last tell his crying wife (14:17).
The unity of Samson’s mother with her husband is a strong contrast to the seducing, false way of Delilah, who is three times pretending and calling him to trust her, while in fact she is working for her bosses and is looking for her reward (“Please tell me!” 16:6.10.13).

Mother until the end

Samson’s mother is similar to Mother Mary because she has to keep the memory of the angel and live out of it. The Scripture says: “the angel of the Lord did not appear again” (Judges 13:21) – so she had to “treasure these words and ponder them in her heart.”(Luke 2:19).
The biblical story of Samson does not explicitly mention the further role of his mother, but we can reasonable try to understand how her maternal heart feels when her son is following the judgment of his eyes (14:3 “she pleases me” in Hebrew “she is right in my eyes”) and when he finally falls as victim. What a sword pierced her own soul when she witnessed that he, who was meant to “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5), actually causes their attack (15:9)!

There is yet a great faith of this good mother, which – as it seems – makes wonder. When she reported about the first words of the angel and Samson’s special dedication to God she added “to the day of his death” (Judges 13:17). And it will be exactly on the day of his death that Samson makes final conversion. He is praying, he is for the first time mentioning God’s holy name: “Yahweh” (Judges 16:28). With his death Samson will shatter the fundaments of the enemy’s house; his death will bring greater victory than his life (16:30).

Fr. Niko Bilić, S.J.