Why do so many Christians say they’re giving up chocolate for Lent? What’s the point? [read more] Supposedly Lent is a recognition of Jesus’ triumph over temptation in the wilderness. In Matthew 4:1-11 Satan appears after Jesus has fasted forty days and tempts Jesus with wealth and power. Jesus has no problem telling him to get lost. Could it be that Satan got it wrong. Maybe he should have used a box of Godiva?
Of course people are always coming up with creative suggestions for Lenten fasting. I especially like the carbon fast, called by two prominent bishops in England. [read more] Another option is to “give back” instead of “giving up” [read more]. Problem is, all these ideas are a reaction to a common denominator: the culture of consumerism. Is our consumption so compulsive that we’re unable to think in any other terms. Not to mention the fact that the minute we prohibit something, it becomes all the more irresistible.
For instance, would God, in the first temptation story [Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7], have said to Adam and Eve, “You may freely eat of every treat of the garden; but of the treat of chocolate you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Sounds a bit ridiculous. And honestly, I’m really not interested in picking on people who are giving up chocolate this Lent, but in terms of sin and temptation, chocolate seems to be missing an ingredient.
What if for a moment we forget forgoing wine, meat, carmel macchiatos, and yes, even carbon emissions and look a little more closely at the text. Is there more going on here?
Maybe the object of consumption is not the most important issue.
For both temptation stories, temptation originates with the prompting of another person. So for instance, in Genesis the “crafty” serpent suggests to Eve that God, by prohibiting them from eating from the tree of knowledge, is withholding something from them. And probably by a similar suggestion Eve is able to lead Adam astray. In fact the Hebrew word for “crafty” arum is from the same word group as the word for “nakedness” arummim and may be an intentional pun. [see Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary]
1) subtle, shrewd, crafty, sly, sensible
b) shrewd, sensible, prudent [See Strong’s]
“The craftiness of the serpent (arum) awakens them to looking at objects of desire through the eyes of others, which then leads to looking at themselves as naked (arummim).”
Likewise, in Matthew Satan prefaces every temptation with: “if you are the Son of God…”, tempting Jesus to recognize himself through the eyes of another. After all, would any of us want fame, fortune, beauty or power, if it didn’t draw the attention of others? If we don’t have those things, we feel that we are lacking, not because those objects hold any power in and of themselves, but because without them we feel unimportant and undesirable to others.
Isn’t that what Jesus’ is being tempted by: “how can you possibly be the Son of God, when you lack immeasurable wealth and unlimited power?” It was the power of suggestion that could have led Jesus astray. By claiming to have power over these objects, Satan is no doubt going to use them to control Jesus. As long as we focus on the object as the problem, whether its chocolate or carbon, we will be unable to resist a source of temptation that has significantly more power over our lives. Think about it, why, when gas prices are so high and scientists are warning us about the negative effects of carbon emissions, do so many Americans insist on driving SUVs?
For Jesus to resist Satan’s crafty suggestions, he must have broken free from that persistent feeling of lack which drives our consumerist world. Maybe this is why Jesus could drink and eat as freely as he did. He was unencumbered not only by feelings of lack but also by the accompanying sense of guilt associated with our longing for objects. In Jesus’ resistance to temptation we find a model which frees us from the negative dynamic produced by any and all prohibitions, including the very first one: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”. [See James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, 248]