Yet temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed. The saints all passed through many temptations and trials to profit by them, while those who could not resist became reprobate and fell away. There is no state so holy, no place so secret that temptations and trials will not come. Man is never safe from them as long as he lives, for they come from within us—in sin we were born. When one temptation or trial passes, another comes; we shall always have something to suffer because we have lost the state of original blessedness. — Thomas a’ Kempis.
There is a strange “twofold-ness” of Jesus that is evident in the Gospels. No, not the fact that he is of two natures as good Caledonian formulations pose. Instead there is a twofold-ness in mastery over his foes. He commands spirits with mastery and indignation and they have no choice but to do has he commands. It is as if the spirits that beset the insane and infirm in the stories are but small nuisance critters that must be dealt with as any raccoon caught in the attic. Yet, with humans . . .
The voice from heaven announced: “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.” (3:16) We sometimes argue who actually heard this voice. Only Jesus? Only John? The crowd? What seems to be certain is that the spirits heard. God’s announcement of Jesus at his baptism made one thing certain: The spirits now knew who he was and they would have to deal with him. They will loose at every turn.
Even the prince on demons gets to loose. Unlike the Pharisees who continue their argument with him the entire Gospel long, the tempter realizes that he is not getting anywhere with his line of “suggestions.” He retreats accomplishing nothing only to behold humans to fully adopt his suggestions and in doing so brining on his ruin.
So, in the spirit world all was settled. Yes, our ancestors believed in spirits and gave them all the due needed to live safely. We are more advanced and have no good luck charms, lucky pennies, neither do we wear our favorite color shirt when we need an extra bit of support from “other” sources, nor do we wear our shirts inside out on game day because we believe that data has shown that when we do, our team will win, and when our team wins the Super Bowl then the stock market will rally the following week — or was that when the Stock Market is on the upswing the NFC team wins the super bowl? And neither is ghost hunting anything that would ever make it unto the television nor would there be ghost hunting tours of Gettysburg or old insane asylums.
Anyway: in the world of humans it is another story. There the players are more a battleground than participants in the battle. There, Jesus does not work by command. There his work is done by belief or it is thwarted by the lack of it. (13:58) There the debate just never seems to stop (22, 23), disciples jokey for place (20:24), betrayal is a possibility (26:14), denial is an option (26:75), and the doubting never really ceases. (28:17) All of these are foreseen by Jesus but he seem content to let it be that way. In the human realm, he choses not to rule by force or command.
If the spirits can oppress and the Tempter can misguide and coerce, and if Jesus can command them and is therefore more powerful, could he not do the same and even more to us than the spirits and the tempter? The questions might be asked: “why don’t he,” and “what might it mean that he does not?”
Those questions can also be turned around. The demons see him and know they must obey and even their prince is bested by the Word that comes from his mouth. How is it that we do not obey the word when we hear it but argue, twist, and dice the Word? (23:1-36)
Under the best and most ideal conditions for faithfulness and allegiance to God, Adam and Eve met the tempter. Even in the idyllic life with everything going for them, they failed. In a world where things are much less clear do we really want to claim we have a chance to do better than they? No, we twist, we argue, and we ignore and as a result fall into sin, death, and the ever deepening sway of evil. Under that sway pharisees argue and die, and sin becomes the new normal, the glasses through which all things are seen and the new standard by which all things are judged. That standard admires power and is blinded by it so much as not to see the evil that is being worshipped by pursuit of it. That standard finds the amazing and amusing things of life worthy of exclusive attention and therefore overlooks the angels that point to the truly heavenly things in mangers. That standard finds the legitimacy of its actions in its own will and not in the will of God — it is the world of auto-nomianism.
Wealth, possessions, honors, and pride. These are the ideals of the tempter. He whispers to us that we need the praise and acceptance of others, and tells us that because of our successes, we deserve honors. He wants us to adopt the attitude of “look at me and what I have done.”
Christ instead calls his followers to go out into the world and lead everyone to freedom from precisely this. Spiritual poverty, insults, and humility. (Matt 5:1-12) These lead to true freedom. This means we live a life recognizing and accepting that all that we have is a gift from God. Possessions are not something to be worshipped. In regards to insults, we are to let God’s love lead us through the illusion of self-satisfaction and approval of others to a life of serving others. We are called to a life of selflessness, and such a life will put us at odds with the world, which could result in insults and rejection. Finally, Christ calls us to a life of humility, a life of unconditional love and service for God and others. (http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/how-the-two-standards-meditation-can-help-outside-of-a-retreat/)
It takes different eyes to see heaven and to discern hell. We do not have those eyes. Jesus does. He can and did see the temptations for what they were: an invitation to sin, death and the devil. The Gospels show us his resistance to them to say to us, much like the voice at his baptism and on the Mountain: This is the one to follow. He knows the way. Listen to him!
We are to be free. This is God’s hope and will. It is also the reason why we are not commanded like demons who will never be free. No, we are being led to freedom by Christ, the one who crushed the serpent’s head because he knew him for what he was — he knew him as our jailer and he came to set us free.