Excerpted from Power Made Perfect in Weakness, a Lenten Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
In this famous passage from Matthew, Satan asks Jesus to make his power known. The devil tempts Jesus by asking him to prove himself and his identity as the Son of God by showing his power over the elements in addition to his power of will. Though Jesus denies the devil each time, responding with Scripture and the teachings of faith, the power dynamics of the passage remain interesting.
The power that the devil asks Jesus to display is domineering. It is the power of the dictator. The power of the never-satisfied, driven by the bottom line, CEO. The power of the bully yearning for a fight. The power called on by the devil in this passage demands no signs of weakness. Ultimately, it is this kind of power that nails Jesus to the cross.
The power of Christ is not domineering. It is the kind of power that turns expectations, and unjust systems, on their head. In a just and compassionate whisper, this sort of power shakes the world. It is for this reason that Christ’s subversive power is loathed by the tyrannical. Love, justice, and reconciliation truly are stronger than hatred and fear. And somewhere, deep down, they know it.
In this season of Lent, as we make our way to Golgotha, that hill called Calvary, may we remember the subversive power of Jesus. May we remember that Jesus came into the world not as an established king but as a newborn—that his dinner guests of choice were not the social elite but the marginalized. May we remember that the power of Christ looks different from the powerful and oppressive systems harming the most vulnerable in our world today. May we do something about it.
God of love, help me see the opportunities in my life to live into your subversive power. Help me see your way clearly, and move through your world with compassion. Amen.