Temptation is all around us. What tempts me may not tempt you. For an alcoholic, a drink is a temptation to sin. But for a non-drinker, a drink is just a drink. For a gossiper, a bit of juicy news is a temptation to gossip and share it with everyone, but for another, it would just be news. What can we take from today’s passage to help us with our own temptations?
First of all, note how the reading says that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted. I’ve read those words before, but today it really struck a chord. God allowed the temptation. His Spirit even led Jesus right into the thick of it. There was a lesson to be had, a teachable moment. Isn’t there some comfort knowing that even Jesus was tempted. God even allowed his own Son to be enticed by the evil one.
Each of the gospels has an account of Jesus’ baptism. Have you ever wondered why Jesus would need to be baptized? Wasn’t that for sinners who needed to repent? What had Jesus done? Even John was surprised and tried to talk him out of it.
Jesus is the perfect One. Note what he says, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” In other translations, it was to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus didn’t mean that baptism was necessary for salvation or that he needed to repent. The intent was more the readiness to follow the will of God. Jesus was saying he was ready to start his ministry and to do that he had to fully trust God the Father. He was also engaging in the practice of his people and connecting with them.
John, known as the baptizer, was preaching in the wilderness. He was called by God to make a way for Jesus. He was using his message to prepare people’s hearts to hear Jesus’ words of love and salvation. It’s all about getting the mindset right first. We know that to be in the case in business, too. You can’t have a successful business without the right thought patterns and beliefs. Much more importantly, you won’t be ready to accept Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s preparation. In this case, John was being used.
John was attracting quite a crowd. Word was traveling around the area about John’s ministry. People were realizing their sinfulness and wanted to be cleansed. John was setting the stage with a sense of urgency. “The Kingdom of Heaven is near,” he was telling people. What would you have thought when you saw John?
God’s plan continues. We hear of at least three prophecies fulfilled in today’s reading. Two are geographical, that is, Jesus, the Son, being called up from Egypt and Jesus being referred to as a Nazarene. In both instances, Joseph was obedient to God’s leading and as a result, Jesus was safe. Joseph’s desire for righteousness continues. The third prophecy points to the evil heart of Herod which led to the brutal death of many young boys, and the cry from Ramah. Ramah is an ancient town not far from Bethlehem. In Genesis, we hear that Rachel was buried there. Her children, descendants now, would be the ones slaughtered by Herod’s men.
Senseless killing for what purpose? It’s hard to understand the actions of an insecure lunatic with power. Over the span of history, we have seen other bad kings, rulers, and leaders whose agendas were totally evil. I think of Hitler, for example.
The wise men from the East sure did a number on the status quo in Jerusalem that day when they asked about the birth of Jesus. Little did they know how that simple question would rile the king. King Herod did a great job in deflecting his anger at the news as he craftily obtained the information he needed. Something tells me he isn’t interested in worshiping the new king.
Note that the number of wise men is never mentioned. Our tradition would suggest there were three, but it could have been two, four, or more. The word “some” is open for interpretation. An interesting aside, but certainly not something to get stuck on. What is cool is that they wanted to worship this newborn king. This meeting between Jesus and the magi is referred to as the Epiphany, and in the Christian tradition is celebrated on January 6.