The Temptation of Christ

Here is a passage from the Philokalia (Love of Beauty/Goodness) on the temptations Jesus endured that relates to what I wrote this morning.

Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the disciplined life, there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who insight us to seek the esteem of men. All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups. for one does not fall into the power of the demon of unchastity, unless one has first fallen because of gluttony…. That is why the devil suggested these three thoughts to the Saviour: first he exhorted Him to turn stones into bread; then he  promised Him the whole world, if Christ would fall down and worship him; and thirdly he said that, if our Lord would listen to him, He would be glorified and suffer nothing in falling from the pinnacle of the temple. But our Lord, having shown Himself superior to these temptations, commanded the devil to ‘get behind Him.’ In this way He teaches  us that it is not possible to drive away the devil, unless we scornfully reject these three thoughts (cf. Matt. 4:1-10).

Evagrios the Solitary

Farms, Computers, Books, and Kindles

The computer was thought by many people to promise a decentralized economy. Because of this cheap and easy technology, small businesses would fill the garden of our economy like chives. Maybe they would have under different circumstances, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that the computer enables elephants to stomp around in the garden.

To see the reason for this, compare the world of the computer to a farm: the farm sits on the earth, and the earth is owned by nobody.

The computer operates on software, and that software is owned by previously unimaginably gigantic corporations. It is as if Bill Gates bought the whole earth, leased a percentage to Steve Jobs, and couldn’t control some fellow named Linux. Now everybody who wants a farm is a serf on the Gates Latifundia.

This helps to explain why the computer has brought about a centralized, rather than a decentralized, economy.

Now the same pattern is being applied to the book.

Once upon a time, there were many publishers. Now there are relatively few. With the computer, anybody can publish his own book, as long as he uses a platform like Lulu, a company with whom I will never again even consider doing business. But don’t think that self-publishing equates to being a publisher.

With the kindle the book itself is being located on a centralized platforms. Barnes and Noble and others have created competing platforms, but not very many. Think about that.

The control of publication and therefore of thought is in ever fewer hands. I am altogether uncomfortable with where this will take us.

I will not buy a kindle because i don’t want to empower this kind of centralization. the convenience does not interest me, because I don’t think that what reading is for.

Jon Stewart, Larry Wilmore, and the Race Card

This has to be seen. It’s hilarious, but also terrible. It’s from Jon Stewart’s show and has some censored parts.

The only way a people can be free is if the people and the rulers are under the same law. That’s what we mean by “freedom under law.”

When any identity is used to escape accountability, when a person tries to excuse his abuse of authority because he is a member of a favored or an oppressed group, the attempt must be resisted because an injustice occurs at the level of governance.

We’ve seen abuses by whites, by blacks, by gays, by atheists, by Christians, and by every other group who’s ever had the opportunity. But we only know they are abuses because there is a law, a natural law, to which everybody must submit.

If there isn’t, we can’t be free. No social contract can sustain freedom for more than a generation.

When an identity appeals for its existence to the bigotry of others or when a group abuses the appeal to X-ism, real violations of justice go unnoticed in the noise.

There are still racist acts in our country, but it’s increasingly difficult to identify them.

Thus freedom is at the stake while true racism becomes ever more difficult to punish. We’ll never stop paying for slavery.

On Hunger

In Matthew 6 our Lord expresses his much recited and much neglected promise. Laying out, as it were, the foundational principles of the life to which He calls those who would follow Him, He says:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Some people, for whatever reason, treat this passage more like a command than a promise. When they do so, the tone changes, the meaning of the passage, though not the content. A barrier is created between the disciple and Christ, because the disciple’s attention is directed to himself instead of to the words of his Lord. Something inside us always wants to take on the burden, but the whole point of this passage is to put it down.

It is instructive that Matthew 6 is part of the sermon on the mount and that the sermon on the mount follows Matthew 4, in which we read of Christ’s temptation.

“Command these stones to become bread.”

“All these things I will give you…”

Christ knows what it is to be tempted. In fact, the temptations He endured make a joke of the ones we confront. He knows how to deal with temptation.

In each case, He appeals to the word of God. But notice something else. In each case, we can see that He is looking in a different direction. He isn’t seeking bread. He isn’t seeking “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He isn’t even seeking to prove Himself or His God.

He is seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, so He is not worried about these other things. He knows that His Father knows His needs, so He is content to say that “Man shall live… by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Jesus was tempted at the beginning of His task because He is the second Adam. Look back to Genesis 3 for a moment and compare what happens there in the light of Matthew 4 and Matthew 6.

God the maker has created an all-good creation and placed the man in a garden, which he is to tend. The only restriction He gives him is that he must practice the tiniest of fasts: don’t eat from this one tree.

Mind you, this was one spectacular tree. When Eve looked at it, she saw that it was good for food, but it was also pleasant to the eyes and could make one wise.

But they were to fast from this one fruit. They were to believe that man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. They were to seek first God’s righteousness and to trust that the other things would be given.

Perhaps that is why our Lord fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before He was tempted.

They listened to the tempter.

Now here is something that seems worth noting: our Lord told us in Matthew 6 not to worry about what to wear. It seems to me that most of us, when we read that, take these words rather literally, which we should. In other words, we take Him to be talking about being anxious about having clothes to protect us from the cold.

But take a look at Genesis 3. Do you notice the role of clothes in that context? Why do Adam and Eve cover themselves?

Because they feel shame.

No wonder. This goodly frame the earth had come to seem a sterile promontory, this brave o-erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, had come to appear no other thing than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

And worse, The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, noble in reason and infinite in faculty, has become the quintessence of dust.

Adam could say, Man, that is, I, delight not me. No, nor woman neither.

We who are born with shame and practice hiding it in some dark corner of our soul from the day our mothers greet us with their tears, we cannot imagine what it must have felt like to feel shame for the first time.

Oh what a noble mind is here o-erthrown.

The primary purpose of clothing has never been to keep us warm, but to keep us invisible, undiscovered – covered.

Clothes are the means by which we hide our shame.

It seems to me, therefore, that our Lord’s words in Matthew 6 go deeper than we might have thought. The greatest fear we have in following Christ is that we’ll end up ashamed. People won’t respect us. But worse, it might not pay off. We might fail. He might fail.

We would never say it that way; we only make decisions as though it might happen.

This fear of shame drives the conventional school and compels us to grunt and sweat under a weary life, to bear the whips and scorns of time, and all for what?

For words. For nothing.

For air that spills from others’ mouths and evaporates into the air, forgotten.

If we want to see the coming of the kingdom of heaven, then we must abandon the kingdoms of this world and all they offer. We must turn from bread and clothes as the way to validate ourselves, and we must seek Him.

Or maybe it would be more fitting to say, we can seek Him. He calls us to it. He promises to attend to the things we worry about most: hunger and shame.