Temptation In The Wilderness: a parable for our time

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The work of art on the left by British artist, Briton Rivière, is entitled “Temptation in the Wilderness.”

Research indicated that the artist composed the painting as an experiment of color and light, but I think there is more going on over and above the academic explanation and the artist’s experiment.

Three of the synoptic gospels share the story of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, yet the Rivière painting leaves the viewer wondering: is this the moment after the temptation, or maybe before? Trusting in the namesake of the painting, might the artist be suggesting that he has captured the moment when the temptation(s) are taking place?

All of us at some point must deal with various forms of temptation, and to the best of my knowledge and experience, many times temptations happen within the expansive confines of our mind and may not necessarily grow from our physical environment.

Notice the tension in the shoulders of the Christ figure almost as if he has been caught in some sort of inner struggle. This physical tension captured in the painting might show that the Christ is having a difficult time possibly suggesting his choice might go either way. If temptation is real one must first be capable of being drawn into its deception. Is this the moment captured in the painting? Does this picture depict the moments when the Christ could have been lured into a false sense of security?

It is possible to read the temptation account from a parabolic perspective. When this is done it is possible to get into the heart of the passage which brings forth three intrinsic temptations (in the order presented in the passage):

  • Hedonism – which says that pleasure and happiness is that which rules a person’s life. No matter what ethics we are taught, choices made are ruled by our own quest for pleasure and satisfaction.
  • Egoism – the notion that the self comes first, beyond anyone else, or a group having nothing to do with an ethical/moral choice as the “I” comes before all things.
  • Materialism – a system of personal and public honor based upon what one owns, or can acquire without regard for what happens to others in the process. Materialism places higher value on material goods over and above the intrinsic quality of life.

By stripping away Biblical language contained within the temptations, it is easy to accept the notion that these three temptations are still with us, and continue to be problematic for humankind, contributing to many forms of evil.

Reading the Temptation Passage as a parable shifts the focus away from Jesus overcoming temptations thereby allowing the reader the opportunity to be confronted with the distinct possibility that Hedonism, Egoism, and Materialism have played an important role in our lives.

This parabolic passage may also ask if we, as a people, might have given authority to elected officials, organizations, or business leaders who have succumbed to the temptation of Hedonism, Egoism and Materialism. This passage can be placed not only upon individuals, and organizations, but address a nation as well.

Clearly, Hedonism, Egoism and Materialism are with us, and continue to hold power over our lives, and will continue to do so until we can muster the strength, and wisdom to say to not only recognized them for what they are: an evil to be avoided, and not raised to the level of human competence. But…at least the artist offers his own insertion of hope (scroll up and view the Rivière detail)….as the Christ is seated on the rock, in the middle of his struggle, above his head you may have noticed the morning star. This star can represent a new dawn as well as a new hope….let us pray it can be so.

 

This is a second in a series of reflections based upon random pictures friends have posted on Facebook

Jacob and Esau: A 21st Century Story

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21st Century Jacob and Esau

The Biblical book of Genesis contains some great stories. One long arch within the narrative tells of Abraham and his descendants dealing with the notion of promise and inheritance.  Early on in the story Abraham’s wife (Sarah) believes she is too old to have a child, and gives Abraham permission to father a child by his Egyptian slave Hagar, perhaps one of the first instances of a surrogate motherhood. Hagar gives birth to Ishmael who would receive Abraham’s inheritance.

Later in the narrative Abraham’s wife, Sarah, gives birth to Isaac thereby nullifying poor Ishmael’s inheritance. Eventually, both Hagar and Ishmael are given bread and water and then forced to wander in the desert. At the end of their rope a crying and bewildered Hagar is told by an angel that God will make a great nation from Ishmael. This promise from God eventually became known as the Arab nations.

As the epic tale continues, the plot moves to Abraham’s biological son Isaac and his children with stories about twin brothers named Esau and Jacob. These two boys could be poster models for sibling rivalry. Esau was the first born with Jacob holding on to the leg of his older brother Esau. From the start the twins were competitive, or in the very least, Jacob was trying to supersede.

 

Time moves forward and with a plot worthy of a supermarket novel, the older brother Esau gives up his firstborn status to Jacob for a bowl of soup. Later, Jacob (at the urging of his mother) tricks his blind father into believing Jacob is his older brother receiving his father’s blessing and inheritance turning a sibling rivalry into a full blown feud with Esau threatening to kill his brother, Jacob.

As they grow older, both brothers leave the nest. Jacob, living in constant fear from his older twin brother’s retribution, goes to work for his uncle (and ends up getting cheated, but that’s another story) and Esau marries a Canaanite women with a family linage derived from Ishmael, the son of Abraham and the slave Hagar. Jacob, on the other hand, marries within his clan of people who recognize YHWH as the one God of all.

So now we have twin brothers at odds with each other, and both represent dual promises from God that their ancestors’ will form great nations. Jacob, after he wrestles with an Angel/or God is given the name Israel which means: one who struggled with God which will eventually becomes the Hebrew People and the nation state known as Israel. Next with have Esau who becomes wealthy and powerful, forming the basis of the People of Arabia. Two great nations formed from Abraham and God’s promise.

You may be wondering what happened between the two brothers and their ongoing feud. Jacob agrees to meet with Esau, convinced that they will do battle. Jacob thinks his brother will finally get his revenge, but something miraculous happens:

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. (Genesis 33:1-4)

Within many plot twists, and long drawn out distrust, and misgivings, with countless harsh words, and threats of retribution, the relationship between Esau and Jacob, our twin brothers is restored within an embrace of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The picture shown represents the hope of God founded in the story of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. God made the promise to both peoples, and wishes these nations to remember that they are offspring of the same father, Abraham, and should live in peace together. These two smiling boys represent the hope of God, and the lesson taught in Genesis that all are equal in the sight of God and that good things can happen within the realities of forgiveness and reconciliation.


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