The devil couldn’t convince Jesus to make the goal of his mission something people accepted. So he
tempted him to make the means for achieving it something they expected. He challenged him to establish, before he ever started, that God was going to help him—and on Jesus’s terms.
This is the temptation against divine hope—hope that is worthy of the reality of God.
The devil takes Jesus to the top of the Temple, and invites him to throw himself down into the courtyard below, in the midst of all the people. After all, Jesus risks nothing. If he really is the Son of God, the Father will keep him from harm. He has to. And that will prove to Jesus and everybody else that Jesus really is the Messiah.
The devil is tempting Jesus to make God show his hand, prove he is the Messiah by keeping him alive.
At its core this is a temptation to base one's trust in God, not on the truth of who God is, or on his fidelity to his word, but on the visible evidence that he is taking care of us.
At the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, he was responding to a temptation in the early Church. People were tempted to reject Jesus as Messiah because God let him be defeated and die on the cross.
That wasn’t supposed to happen to the Messiah. Scripture said about him: “By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me” (Psalm 41:11). And “Because you have made the LORD your refuge… no evil shall befall you… He will command his angels… to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone (Psalm 91).
The disciples Jesus met on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection voiced the general disappointment. They said that although Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people… our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.”
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19).
“We had hoped…” That said it all. To this day, people give up on Jesus because “they had hoped.” They hoped God was going to help them the way they expected to be helped. When he didn’t, they lost faith in him.
They fell into the second temptation in the desert. They trusted God to do what he never promised to do, or they trusted he would do it their way.
Jesus answered Satan, “We don’t give reliability tests to God. We trust him absolutely, because of what he is; not because he demonstrates his support in ways we can understand.”
The answer to the second temptation is absolute, unconditional trust in God, no matter what he does or allows others to do. Some Saint is reported to have said, “I will trust him, even if he kills me.”
That is what Jesus did. Literally.
And it is what we have to do.
Accepting Jesus means accepting to trust absolutely in God - in his love, in his presence, in his power, in his protection, in his favor and help - without insisting on any visible signs or proof that he is with us. This is trust based on nothing but who God is in himself - on his love and fidelity - and on the promise of his word.
Christ's Kingdom is founded on those means that help us to rely on God: on weakness and humility; on love and trust in the Father. It is not established by reliance on human means: on wealth or success, power or prestige (see 2 Corinthians 12:5-10). It is essentially the work of God, not of man; and we can be instrumental in establishing the Kingdom only to the extent that we are united to God in faith, hope and obedient love.
We must adhere to God in hope, regardless of how unintelligible his ways may appear to us to be in our times of darkness, abandonment and distress. God's ways are not our ways. If we are to follow Jesus as “Master of the Way” it must be with a faith and a hope that depend, not on visible results, but simply on our knowledge of who God is. This is the only trust in God that is properly divine. And this is the trust Christ teaches to all who would accept and follow him as disciples along his way.
(See A Change Within, Chapter Four: “The Acceptance Of Absolute Trust.” Click the image above or buy a hard copy in our bookstore ).
Question: Do you trust that God is helping you and taking care of you even when you see no evidence of it? Have you ever been angry with him because of what he allowed to happen?