The 40 days of Lent begin with “Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness.” I hope you either read my sermon or watched it on YouTube: 6Jesus1, 2, & 3, dated Feb. 11. (If not, please do so.)
We see Jesus wrestle (for 40 days in the wilderness) with three potential ways his Messianic movement might have proceeded.
He chose (first) not to pursue the path of economic success and universal “food security” – turning stones into bread – which would have offered not only himself but all his followers a lifetime of free bread -- Wonder Bread! -- made from minerals at his fingertips. To feed the hungry is a good cause; isn’t it?
It has always been tempting for politicians and rulers to offer “free bread and circuses” to the masses of people in order to appease them, provide for their basic needs, and keep them from revolting. But in every economy (from the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day to the current trillion-dollar deficit federal budget of our own) somebody always had to make the bread and to put on the circus performances … and somebody had to pay for it. Jesus refused that path -- the path of feeding people’s bellies, including his own. He was not going to bribe them with bread.
Jesus chose (second) not to pursue the path of religious spectacle and “conforming” to the expectations of the priests. Remember: that was the temptation for Jesus to descend from the pinnacle of the Temple with a retinue of angels into the courtyard of the priests. No, Jesus refused to tie his Gospel to the rules and rituals, the offerings and sacrifices, that his culture demanded: religiously separating the kosher from the unkosher, the clean from what’s unclean, the sinner from the self-righteous, and so forth.
To perform a spectacular miracle at the Jerusalem Temple would certainly have gained Jesus a following among the religious folks, but it would not lead to changed hearts, nor to increased faith in God.
Jesus refused to use the path of religion to prove that he was the Messiah.
Third, Jesus refused to pursue a “political” path to power. He saw the local power-brokers -- with their military and their police powers, with coercive regulations and their demands for tribute and taxes -- civic authorities working for King Herod and religious collaborators working with Rome, with their chains of command and social hierarchy -- as part of the problem, not the solution for the injustices, and poverty, and deplorable conditions that the hoi polloi had to endure.
Jesus returned from his 40-day test in the wilderness with nothing in his hands that would prove that he was the Messiah, except his inner conviction that he was going to bring his personal understanding of God to the people in a new way.