patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Soon after Jesus allowed his cousin John to baptize him, he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 1:1 NIV).

I’ve always been disturbed by this story. First, how could God be tempted? My translation’s textual notes give tested as an alternative to tempted, and that helps some. But the devil surely knew Jesus was God (although also human), and he surely knew God could do anything, so what was the purpose of the test? Is this a test only of Jesus’ humanness?

Then, there’s the business of Jesus’ forty day fast, which to me sounds impossible for an ordinary human. Arguably, it’s another permutation of all things are possible with God, that we humans could push literal mountains aside if we only had Jesus’ faith. Etc. And people have told me that it is possible to fast for forty days and stay alive. They’ve also told me people have been swallowed by fish and lived to tell of it. That such miracles of survival are possible. But somehow, to me, if it’s a miracle, then what’s the point of the story of Jesus’ temptation? And if it’s not a miracle, was Jesus being Jesus or God in his survival?

Finally, there’s the question of how Matthew (and Mark and Luke) knew this story. They couldn’t’ve witnessed it, and I have trouble believing that Jesus would’ve told it himself. The story, in other words, gets at the very nature of how scripture came to be in the first place—what part divine imparting and what part ordinary humans telling what happened—and that makes me uncomfortable.

Sorry for this little gout of doubt. Anyway, to get to what I thought about this passage today, this is the first mention Jesus makes of one of his favorite topics: bread. In response to the tempter/tester’s suggestion that he assuage his hunger—or, that is, break his fast—by turning the stones around him into loaves of bread, Jesus retorts, “People don’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God’s mouth” (Matthew 4:4, my mashup).

Bread as we ordinarily understand it—like the two sourdough loaves that just came out of my oven—is compared here, unfavorably, to the sustenance we get from scripture. I’m thinking, when Jesus calls himself the bread, as he will do on numerous occasions, he’s calling himself the nourishment of scripture—that kind of bread. (Hence, as his friend John puts it, the word.) Jesus is the food that comes from God’s mouth into ours.

I won’t take you to all the examples that fill my mind of birds and other animals and even humans who feed their young or their romantic interests from their own mouths. Just bread, and how what starts out as a negative comparison to the words of God ends up being a positive one. There’s the bread he broke on so many occasions that the sheer breaking of it—his gestures, his way of holding and tearing—are what finally make him recognizable to those guys on the road to Emmaus. The daily bread we ask God to provide when we pray Jesus’ prayer. The bread Jesus broke at the last meal he ever ate. This bread you are eating, Jesus says, is me.

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