Dear Lenten Pilgrims,
Most paintings of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness show both Jesus and Satan, and their portrayals often couldn’t be more different. Jesus usually appears with bright, shimmering glory, and Satan is often a wretched, haggard, human-like creature. The visual distinctions are stunning.
In stark contrast, there is the painting Temptation of Christ by contemporary American painter Rohann Zulienn:
There is no Satan figure. There is only a close-up of Jesus, fatigued and troubled. Look at the way he is cupping that stone and pondering it. You can see in his eyes the thoughts that are racing in his mind. He is hearing competing voices in his head, drowning out even the grumbling in his stomach. Will he use his power for himself, or for others? Will he turn that stone into bread to keep him alive, or will he turn himself into the Bread of Life to feed others?
If Luke had commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of the temptation of Jesus, I think he would have chosen this one. Like much of Luke’s gospel, Zulienn’s painting is raw and unmistakably human. His depiction of temptation is true to our own experience. It is not personified as a devil-like figure external to us, which would make it easier to face. We could simply disinvite him, shut the door or run away. But the temptations we face aren’t like that. They linger and drift in and out of our mind, a constant conversation within the deepest shadows of our lives.
Unlike Matthew and Mark, where Jesus’ temptation happened in three isolated incidents during his forty days in the wilderness, Luke suggests it was endless and constant (“for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”) And even after it was over, Luke alone says that there remained the possibility for the devil to return at a more “opportune time.”
I like Luke’s version of the temptation of Jesus. I think it’s closest to the reality of the temptations we face in our spiritual journeys. I like how human Jesus is in the story, much like Zulienn’s portrait. Because it reminds us that if Jesus can conquer temptation, if Jesus can channel his powers for the benefit of others rather than just for himself, then Jesus can empower us to do the same.
We’ll explore this scripture passage further this Sunday, as we begin our Lenten journey with a worship series titled, “Getting Unstuck.” Here’s how our Communications Team describes our goal for this season together:
Feeling stuck is the worst. We think that if we just start a new relationship or get a new job or reboot our lives, we could change for the better. But Jesus wants to move us through a deeper kind of stuckness, one that helps us find our highest purpose and truest joy in God. This Lent, let’s follow Jesus along the path to the cross, moving from temptation to freedom, sorrow to joy, and even death to resurrection. Join us as we dive deeper into our own self-examination, walking with God, on the road to Easter. And get ready to get unstuck.
Join us in person or online this Sunday, as we learn to overcome our temptations, be “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and allow God to get us unstuck from all that holds us back from our highest purpose and truest joy in God.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019
We have created a post on our website with the latest updates regarding last week’s special General Conference of the United Methodist Church. You can read last week’s Midweek Message, and a link to Bishop Carter’s webinar last Friday. You will also find some helpful “talking points” that you might use when answering questions from your non-Methodist family and friends. For the latest, visit this post.