This morning I am struck by the first verse of Matthew 4, which sets up the story of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness:
Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil (diabolou) might tempt him. (Mt. 4:1 CEB)
This verse opens up many questions, such as why the Spirit of God would lead Jesus into temptation (given that Jesus taught us to ask God to keep us from temptation); what does the wilderness represent; and the nature of the diabolou which becomes the antagonist in the story.
When I look at the Greek, I find myself less troubled by the former questions. While God’s Spirit is what moved Jesus into the wilderness, the Greek peirasthenai isn’t limited to thinking about tempation, but can simply mean putting one to the test. Testing is, at it’s core, about preparation — a time to ensure that one has acquired knowledge of or mastered a certain subject. The “wilderness” (eremon) for Matthew is simply a deserted place — a place of quiet where one can better hear the voice of God … and in this case the accuser.
The diabolou in Greek doesn’t refer to a red guy with a goatee and horns, or for that matter any specific personality. It is the word for false accuser or slanderer. It represents one who points the finger at another and questions their integrity and their humanity with malice of the heart, and the goal of destroying the other.
This definition is important for there are any number of accusers we face, people and movements who want to deny our humanity and convince us that our God given identity isn’t good enough and needs to be supplemented by whatever it is they are selling. These voices get to us to the point where we live in guilt and insecurity rather than resting in the knowledge that we are created in the image of God, and are beautiful.
Yet, this morning I wonder if the most dangerous accuser we face isn’t ourselves. That is why we avoid traveling to the quiet places, the places where we are forced to carry on an internal conversation with ourselves which our own psyche (damaged by the other voices of the world) attempts to reinforce destructive notions of ourselves. We fail to go to the wilderness because we know who is waiting for us, and he isn’t a red guy with horns. No, it is the demon inside of us, the shadow side which is damaged and distorted in our brokenness, and calls us to task.
The good news in this is found in Jesus’ response. He goes willingly to the wilderness when called by the Spirit knowing that the light outshines the darkness. He has rooted himself in the stories of faith, and when the voices attempt to suggest that he is a failure, that he should do something else, and that he needs to be more than he is, he draws on those stories to remind him of his God given identity and his status as one deeply loved by God. For Matthew, it is Jesus’ rooting in his baptism (Ch. 3) that gives Christ the strength to stand up to the voices that accuse him falsely.
God, help me not to fear the wilderness. Root my in your love so that I can speak truth in the face of false accusers.