9- BENEATH THE DESERT SUN

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Early that morning, I saw Jesus coming out of the tent where we, the Galileans, spent the night. He took his walking stick and began to walk alone, away from the river toward the desert of Judah. Then, he suddenly disappeared….

Jesus: Lord, what do you want from me? What do you expect of me? Speak to me, that I may overcome this fear and respond to you!… Speak to me, Lord!…

But he heard other voices inside him….

Mary’s Voice: What is it that you want, Jesus? One year has passed, and another year, yet, you haven’t decided on anything. Listen to me, son. Forget about your dreams and be realistic. You are thirty, and it is high time you put your feet on the ground….

Innkeeper’s Voice: Ah, some crazy men! They dream of prophets and signs from God when they can stay and enjoy the good life! Cheer up, Nazarene! I have very good wine for you, and some women….! There is none of this stuff in your town.

Peter’s Voice: I’m serious, Jesus. Anyone can be the Messiah. Why not? John says he is in our midst. It could be this bald man, or that skinny one, or… or, you, Jesus. You can be the Liberator of Israel!…

Jesus continued walking through the desert. He climbed the hills, descended through them, and passed through the mountainside. When evening came he lay flat on the sand, his face looking up to the sky, as if waiting for an answer…

Jesus: Lord, what do you want from me?…. What can I do for my people?.. John is a prophet, and he can speak…. but I….I…..

How many days have passed?… How long could someone, stricken by hunger and thirst, survive? Nothing. Not even a sign of life, nor a drop of water could be seen anywhere… Jesus, his lips parched and bluish, sat on a rock. He felt the blazing sun above his head, and became dizzy. Then he remembered nothing. He rolled over on the sand and was lost in deep sleep….

Devil: Tsssk…. tsssk….. Poor guy! Why did you come here without any food at all? You don’t even have a camel! Do you know that only beetles and lizards inhabit this desert?

Jesus: Who are you?

Devil: It doesn’t really matter. Let us say that I’m a dream…

Jesus: Bah, then I don’t see any need of you…

Devil: Don’t say that… Sometimes, dreams can be more real than reality itself… You poor guy! You fainted because of hunger and exhaustion… I will help you. But first, you gotta tell me clearly… Why did you come here?

Jesus: I am looking for God. I need Him to speak to me and show me the road I ought to follow…

Devil: There are no roads in the desert. Not even in life. One makes a road with a bit of luck and a little ambition. I can be of help to you, Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus: How did you know my name?

Devil: Only a few come here, so it’s easy to know who is who.

Jesus: And what’s your name?

Devil: Don’t worry about that… Listen to me… I can give you good advice. Listen: Do you know that cats have seven lives, while crocodiles have four? How many lives have you got, poor man?

Jesus: Only one.., of course.

Devil: Then, enjoy it, my friend!… Why go look for a road? This is what most men and women take, and they like it.

Jesus: What must I do in order to enjoy life?

Devil: First, you must not think a lot. Thinking makes you sad.

Jesus: That’s easier said than done… What about our country? There’s so much injustice to correct. How can I stop thinking of these things?

Devil: They are nothing but the idealism of youth. With or without you, life will go on. Two thousand years will pass and the poor will continue to be poor, and the rich will become richer. The same abuses of the past will be committed again tomorrow.

Jesus: Perhaps you are right, but…

Devil: Listen to me, Jesus of Nazareth. Look at this rock…. Imagine this rock to be a piece of bread, a recently baked piece of bread… Oh, my good friend: to eat it is the first rule to enjoy life…

Jesus: Man does not live by bread alone…

Devil: Of course not! You need good food for the stomach, good wine to drink and nice women to go to bed with!

Jesus: What about the word of God? People live by the word of the Lord too.

Devil: Uff, forget about God. God has his own problems in heaven, while you have yours on earth. Do you know what you really need? Money!…. Money, my friend, is the key to happiness. You can buy everything with money. Listen to me: If you have a lot of money, then you’ll enjoy a comfortable life and be happy.

Jesus: But, where am I gonna get such an abundance of money? It’s not easy to be rich.

Devil: For you, it is. You have a knack for business. I’m sure that if you transfer to Jerusalem and start business there, like putting up a small lending shop, or textile trading…. You will progress, young man. You can convert stones into bread, and bread into money, and money can give you anything! Enjoy life and don’t think of…. So, you decide… what else are you waiting for?

Jesus: I don’t know, but… I am looking for… If I have money, life’s luxury and security… then what?

Devil: Now, I realize, young man, that you’re not like the rest who simply want to make money and be happy. You want something more than this. You want to dominate the world be at the helm of the ship!…. Am I right?

Jesus: I don’t understand you.

Devil: Give me your hand and come with me…..

Jesus: Where will you take me?

Devil: Look, I want you to observe from this mountain. From here, you can choose well. Take a look at all the kingdoms and governments in this world: Jerusalem, Egypt, Babylon… Athens… Rome… Which do you like most?

Jesus: What are you talking about?

Devil: You can be the lord of any of these empires, if you wish…. Or, if you are more ambitious, like Alexander the Great, you can rule the entire world.

Jesus: That’s impossible. I’m only a peasant who wears a pair of broken sandals… I don’t even have a piece of land to own, and here you are talking about my being the lord or master of….

Devil: Everything is a matter of wanting it. Little by little you’ll be scaling the ladder of power.

Think about it, young man: politics is the art of stepping on the foot of someone at the lowest rung of the ladder.

Jesus: That is exactly where I am: at the lowest rung of the ladder. Whose foot am I gonna step on? What must I do to go up?

Devil: I will help you. Trust me.

Jesus: Tell me, please. Who are you?

Devil: I am the lust for power that is hiding in your soul, Jesus. You don’t just aspire for money and other luxuries, because you want to rule and have power over others. That is natural. Look!… A person wages war against a neighbor, and will win, for sure, because of ambition. A person already has hundreds of thousands of people in subservience and will have more who will obey, and serve.

Jesus: I don’t know, but… I prefer to serve than be served.

Devil: You are a dreamer, Jesus. Tell me, whom do you want to serve?

Jesus: The Lord… and my country, Israel….

Devil: Oh, I understand. I should have known that before. You are even prouder than I thought. Now, let’s be clear on this, Jesus of Nazareth: you want to be the Messiah that all Jews have been waiting for, for many centuries… Hey, don’t put on that face… You know damn well what I’m talking about. Money is easy. Power is likewise boring, I know, and you aspire for something special, like being the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the World. You want to be remembered through the centuries, written about by entire libraries, and you wish to have several followers, with a very powerful organization of course…

Jesus: How can you talk that way to me. I have never thought anything of that sort…

Devil: Come. You will need a good starter for your career, do you understand?…. Let us go to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the pinnacle of the walls…

Jesus: Leave me alone, I don’t wanna go with you. Let go!…

Devil: Look…. 400 cubits high!… Look down… and look at those people… Everyone has come to see the miracle.

Jesus: What miracle?

Devil: Yours! Close your eyes, and jump from here.

Jesus: Are you crazy? I would kill myself!

Devil: Of course not! I will stay down and see to it that you don’t step on even one stone. Trust in me.

Jesus: What good will that do for me?

Devil: That would be the first miracle. Then people will come, and they will applaud you. And you will ask: Whom are you looking for? Are you looking for the Messiah? for the Liberator?

I am he! And everyone shall kneel before you and you will be great. You will be known all over the world!

Jesus: But….

Devil: No more buts. Don’t think anymore. Don’t you hear the people waiting for you? Come on, jump! I will take care of the rest!

Jesus: Wait a minute… This is tempting God. You are not to tempt the Lord.

Devil: God! God! Will you let God out of this, you idiot!

Jesus: You leave me alone too! Go away! Go away!

Devil: I’m sorry for you, Jesus of Nazareth! You are taking the wrong road, fellow. Alright, you hardheaded one. You will regret having ignored me. Anyway, we shall still meet. So long!

Jesus: Tell me who you are…. Who are you? What is your name?

Cameleer: My name is Nasim and I am a Samaritan. I am taking this road to get me to Jericho…

An old cameleer was passing through the place, and when he saw Jesus lying down on the sand, he approached him and helped him.

Cameleer: Who are you? …Did you lose your camel? Were you held up by bandits? …You know, brother, this place is treacherous. Even the devil trembles when he crosses through. You were shouting and I came near to see what was happening… Come…. uff! that’s alright now… You are almost dead, brother… Here, drink this goat’s milk… and let us go, for it is still a long way from here to Jericho… Hoaa… Camel…. Let’s go…!

For how many days did Jesus stay in that gray and barren mountain? I would not know. In the desert, God put his people to test for forty years. Even Elijah crossed the desert, and for forty days and forty nights he waited to see the face of God. John the Baptist learned how to shout in that desolate place, proclaiming the coming of the Liberator of Israel.

*Comments*
Galilee, the northern region of Israel, is always verdant and has fertile soil. In contrast, Judea, Israel’s southern part, has a dry area and scarce vegetation. Some parts are even desert lands, which are uninhabited. In these lands where Jesus roamed, thorns and thistles hardly grow. Rain is very scarce and only caravans of camels are seen crossing. At present one can see in the desert of Judea, near the city of Jericho, the so-called Mount of Temptation which Christian tradition has claimed for centuries as the place where Jesus was tempted. Alongside this mountain there live some orthodox monks in an old monastery. The Israelites thought that the land was cursed by God, infertile, and that only wild animals and demons lived there. All these contributed to the belief that the place was extremely risky, where people were put to a test, but were able to resist temptation. The desert was not only considered a terrible place. The long pilgrimage of the Israelites through the desert, through a span of forty years until they reached the promised land, converted the place into a special venue to see God and to know better the peoples’ plans during solitude and in times of trouble. It is between these two meanings, the confrontation with evil and God’s revelation, that the text on the temptations of Jesus is centered, as expressed in the accounts of the evangelists.

The gospel account of the temptations of Jesus must not be read as a historical narration, but as a theological summary of the challenges that Jesus, as a Servant of Yahweh, had to overcome throughout his life in order to be faithful to the end: the temptation of security in a life without risk, of seeking one’s advantage; the temptation of money-power with which to dominate others; the temptation of a Messiah who seeks to be served rather than serve. Jesus, like every human who takes commitment to heart, has to experience weakness and choose the one and only path of generosity. Unceasingly, he renewed his own vocation, and in so doing overcame temptations told to us in the gospel.

The key to understanding the accouunt on the temptations is in the three phrases through which Jesus answered the devil. These three phases appear in the narration of the pilgrimage of the Hebrews through the desert. (Deut 8:3; 16 and 6:13). What God asked his people in that march through the desert in order to test their faithfulness is renewed in Jesus. Jesus experienced the same temptations suffered by the people centuries ago. But Israel failed God and succumbed to a temptation of distrust, of accumulation and power hunger. Jesus, however, remained faithful. In this personal account, he redeems himself and his people, reaching the plenitude of collective history. The culture and literary style during the period of Jesus necessitated the use in these accounts of the figure of a Tempter, who was alien to the person being tempted. Thus, the figure of the demon appeared as the interlocutor of Jesus. The Bible often mentions the devil under different names: The Adversary, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, etc. One must carefully discern in every occasion the narrator’s intention in resorting to this character.

(Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13)

9- BENEATH THE DESERT SUN

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