Reading the Gospel aloud invites the audience to experience human encounters with the divine as revealed in the Bible. Leave interpretation and meaning to members of the clergy and other scholars. What we’re most interested in as lay readers is the human experience found in the narrative.
“…for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”
This excerpt from a passage from the Luke 4: 1-13 is included in the revised common lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. The text is from the NRSV. You can hear a recording of this passage here.
What is it that impresses you most as you read through this passage for the first time?
This passage moves at rapid pace from one temptation to the next.
It really seems more like perfunctory preparation for what’s to come: Jesus in training and this is the regimen. He will face much greater crisis in the time to come.
He’s led into the wilderness where everything is stark and threatening…. Even the language is spare.
Jesus is left famished. He’s vexed and tempted by the Devil with things of this world. Things that vanquish mortal hunger, pain and powerlessness. But things that pale in comparison to the real food and water of life.
Jesus is full of the holy spirit…and that is what is sustaining and carries him through this ordeal. He dispatches each temptation quickly and surely. He is centered, focused, and resolute.
The devil by comparison seems lazy. Is the best he can do? This is school yard level bullying “If you’re so great, do this!” The snake in the Garden of Eden is a much more beguiling, sophisticated and seductive character.
The devil gives up easily, almost as if each response is expected. When did the devil realize that tempting Jesus was hopeless? Finishing the testing is more humiliating for the devil – the devil can’t win.
The devil seems to have no regard for the person, Jesus, and is really only looking for a way to wound God.
But the devil never goes away entirely. Temptation is always there waiting for a more opportune moment. Waiting and looking for weakness.
Here we are looking for words and phrases that make vivid the experience described in the reading. We are also looking for keys to the subtext.
The contrast is between physically famished and spiritually full.
The Devil deals in uncertainty and equivocation. The word “If” comes up again and again. “If you are the son of God…”
The text uses repetition. Three tests. Three times “it is written.”
The progression becomes predictable.
The word “opportune” at the end is important. That’s the way the devil works. Waiting for the right moment to strike. The implication is, this is not over.
Reading this passage aloud
The passage can be read swiftly. Jesus is stress tested and given a clean bill of health.
The devil is cynical and mocking. His voice betrays contempt. His voice may show frustration as each of his lies and “offers” are rejected.
The voice of Jesus is calm and unwavering.
But there is some suspense in the reading of the last sentence. This is not over. The foreboding and ambiguous “opportune time” hangs out there.