Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Second Temptation: Controlling Reality Matters Most (Luke 4:5-8)

Then the devil led [Jesus] up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5-8, New Revised Standard Version)
As we learn from the first temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-4), the first falsehood of the devil that our Olympian personality believes is that reality matters most (or perhaps is even all there is). Food comes first. An empty belly is too distracting to allow us to listen for God’s word or to discern the presence of God’s kingdom. That must come later—after we’ve eaten, gotten a good job, attained a respectable standard of living, put the kids through college, obtained that final coveted promotion, retired. Our whole Olympian civilization—society, culture, and personalities—expresses our daily devotion to the devil by affirming the belief that reality—and not truth, freedom, love, or vitality—matters most.
If reality is all there is, the second temptation of the devil to Jesus, as to all of us, is to control it. In an instant the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (v. 5). From the devil’s point of view, he shows Jesus all there is—including all the glory and the authority of those kingdoms (v. 6).
The devil offers to give it all to Jesus. Think of it. The devil offers to give Jesus control of all the gold, jewels, money, palaces, great works of art, mineral deposits, factories, cities, people, land, water, and everything else the world has to give. Everything. Even more, the devil offers to give Jesus all the glory—all the fame, adoration, and sheer boot-licking servitude—that comes with that control.
The devil, of course, tempts each one of us with larger or smaller crumbs of that same power and glory. Think of all the good we could do if we only had a little more power!
Yet can the devil really deliver? Is this a real temptation? Yes. The devil claims that all that authority and glory has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please (v. 6). Jesus does not contradict him.
So what’s the catch? The devil assures Jesus, If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours (v. 7). All Jesus has to do is to devote himself to the devil to have the whole world under his control and to bask in the glory of being the boss adored by billions.
This must give us pause for thought. All power has been given to Satan who then gives it to whom he pleases. To get it, we must devote ourselves to him. To look at American history, that means the power of the colonists in America was as devilish as that of the British government. It means that the power of the Union government was as corrupting as that of the Confederate government. It means that American power today is as unchristian in origin, means, and goals as that of any other government in this world which is passing away.
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (v. 8). In so doing, Jesus affirmed that he was the beloved son of the one odd god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality.
Olympianity is the religion of power. It is the oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion in the world today.
Unlike Jesus, our Olympian personalities devote themselves to six false and destructive gods. Using their Roman names, these are (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption. Worse, our Olympian personalities devote themselves to the devil who stands behind these gods.
Jesus did not come to establish a new religion. He came to give all of us Christian personalities —personalities that witness to God’s freedom, truth, love, and vitality just like his did and does.
When he came, he also showed all of us what relationships look like that are not based on power. Power relations are all about bosses and the minions who kowtow or rebel against them. Jesus shows us that, like him, Christian leaders serve their subordinates just as Christian subordinates serve their leaders in mutually enhancing ways.
One challenge nowadays is that, even as Christians, we, like all people, have both a fully Christian personality as well as a fully Olympian one. Worse, almost all Christians, like almost all people, have an Olympian personality that is stronger than their Christian one. Consequently, both leadership and cooperation in our churches are marred by power relations. We boss and rebel rather than mutually serve.
Historically, churches have differed over what organizational structure best witnesses to Jesus. Roman Catholics have a hierarchical structure with ordinary people on the bottom, followed by priests, with bishops on top. Presbyterians introduced lay elders into the hierarchy and democracy as the way of choosing them. Quakers prefer to have a whole congregation involved in making decisions at monthly meetings.
Nonetheless, all of these different organizational structures have been corrupted by power. The form of an organization does not determine its spirit. If the Holy Spirit is involved, then any of these forms may sustain Christian relationships of mutual subordination. If the devil is involved, then even the most non-hierarchical structure will be corrupted by power and only serve the devil and his purposes.
(Today we continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul’s important book The Ethics of Freedom [translated by Geoffrey Bromiley, Eerdmans, 1976, pp. 55-57]).
Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
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