Luke  4:1-13
On the Parapet 
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.  The devil said to him.  "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."  Jesus answered him, "It is written, One does not live on bread alone". 

Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.  The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.  All this will be yours, if you worship me".  Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve". 

Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone".  Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test".  When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

Our first parents were tempted by the serpent in the garden and fell.  Genesis tells us three reasons why disobedience to God looked so attractive to them.  Eve saw that the tree "was good for food," it was "a delight to the eyes," and it was "to be desired to make one wise" (Gen 3:6).  That verse indicates three aspects that together encompass every kind of temptation.  St. John called these "the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jn 2:16).  these are what the world offers, he says, and they are not of the Father.

Christ's three temptations in the desert take up these same three dimensions of the original temptation and of all temptation.  As Eve saw the forbidden fruit as "good for food" (concupiscence of the flesh), the devil tempts Christ with bread.  As Eve saw the fruit as "a delight to the eyes" (concupiscence of the eyes), the devil tempts Christ with all the kingdoms of the world.  As Eve saw the fruit as desirable "to make one wise" (pride of life), the devil tempts Christ by telling him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple.

There is a lot to unpack in all three temptations, but in the space we have here let's take a closer look at this third temptation.  It's an odd temptation.  What is the appeal of it?  We can understand the appeal of bread and kingdoms (worldly pleasure and power), but what is this third temptation really all about?

From the parapet of the temple, the devil says to Christ, "If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here."  He then quotes two verses from Psalm 91: "For to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways.  Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone" (Ps 91:11-12).  What he is suggesting is that if Jesus is beloved by the Father, he should be able to throw himself down from the parapet and count on the fact that the angels of God would keep him from harm.  It is a strange sort of exertion of control over God.  Throw yourself down; force God to show that he loves you.

Every temptation is a lie or a false promise, but every temptation also contains an element of truth.  If it didn't, it would be neither believable nor attractive.  The devil takes something true and good, but then twists it for his own purposes.  This temptation is a great example.  The devil first takes something true: he quotes the word of God in holy Scripture.  Of course, that is true.  These psalm verses express a wonderful truth about God's love and his protection for those whom he loves.  But the devil takes it and distorts its meaning.  How does he do this?  Well, let's just say that the devil was very selective in his quotation of the psalm.  He quoted verses 11 and 12 only, but if we keep reading to the very next verse, we find, You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon" (Ps 91:13).  In this verse, God is telling his beloved that he will have power to trample over the evil one.  So, the devil stopped quoting at verse 12 because verse 13 no longer served his twisted interpretation.  This psalm is not at all about control over God; it's about God giving us control over the forces of evil.  "You shall tread upon the asp and the viper," that serpent who tempted our very first parents.

Jesus, being full God, sees right through this deception and quickly and concisely shuts the temptation down, saying, "You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."  Jesus is entirely about doing his Father's will.  He will not give in to this diabolical temptation to flip everything around and exert control over the Father.

As we previously saw, this third temptation corresponds to what St. John calls the "pride of life."  It is putting oneself in the place of God, seeking to manipulate his will, thinking one knows better than God.  When we find ourselves "on the parapet," plagued by our pride, perhaps running from the crosses that we don't understand, we can seek to see through the lie.  We don't know better than God.  Because God is God, and we are not.  In Christ, we can see through the lie and conquer temptation.