To honor the depth of Jesus’ temptation to turn stones to bread (Matthew 4:3), is to be mindful of the fact that it’s not heard against the plaintive cry of the child in the backseat (the child who’s simply bored of the snacks provided between meals) “I’m starving!” but a temptation heard against the deep hunger of someone who had been fasting forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2). We’re mindful that fasting, typically, was from sunup to sundown. With the realization that Jesus was truly famished, we start the story with the implicit reminder (before we ever get to the temptations) that Jesus brought more discipline to bear on his living faith than most.
Then, beyond the literal level, we hear this temptation against all those other profound hungers we know so well: the hunger for love and intimacy, for blessing, for a validation—a celebration of self, for the sense of a bigger picture, for a hope big enough to sustain us in our circumstances, for security—all hungers we believe find their most appropriate fulfillment in God and in the community of the people of God—and yet hungers we so often try and fulfill (choosing the illusory control of immediate gratification) in inappropriate ways that lead to destruction.
And so, the text provocatively asks us, are our hungers subject to the disciplines of our faith? A question, at the extreme end of experience, phrased this way: is it better to die than to be destroyed?
Our culture and our instinct scream “Absolutely not! I am (my survival is) more important than any ideal self.” The word of the world for the people of God.
Jesus raises profound questions about that. The word of God for the people of God.