Forty days without food? Is this even possible? What good does starving accomplish?
I’m not answering any of those questions in this post. You can Google it, ask a dietician or a professor of Biblical Studies.
I’m talking here about rocks and stones, Jesus and Satan. The weighty permanence of this world in my soul.
I’m talking about rock collections.
In Matthew’s gospel (see Matthew 4) we read about three conversations between Jesus and Satan during the forty day period that Jesus fasted after his baptism and issuance into public ministry (see Matthew 3).
As a child who grew up in denominational Christianity I have to make a parenthetical aside. My mental images of this story resemble FlannelGraph characters against a baby blue background. Jesus is kneeling, wearing a spotless robe (after day 20 in the Judean Wilderness? Not realistic.). He is placed near a pile of artistically rendered stones. The devil didn’t get a FlannelGraph to symbolize him. Apparently they didn’t know how to draw Satan.
I mention the FlannelGraph as a tool, should you have difficulty envisioning an actual conversation between a very hungry man named Jesus and his time-eternal, arch-enemy Satan. Since this is such a wildly difficult scene to maintain a mental grasp upon, perhaps you, like me could uses some assistance via FlannelGraph.
Satan first tempts Jesus with that pile of rocks and tells him, “If you are God’s Son, order these stones to turn into bread.” His second attempt involved a showy transport to the top of the Temple — a masterpiece in stonework for it’s day. Satan himself quotes the Psalms and reminds Jesus of the promise that he won’t strike his foot on a stone if he calls the angels to carry him.
His last temptation involved a very, very big rock — a mountaintop experience of power. Beneath them were all the kingdoms of the world. Satan knows his territory and it is here– Earth. From this precipice of granite and basalt, Satan offers Jesus a rocky spot on which to kneel and suggests he worship the ruler of the planet and share in the spoils of power.
Jesus denies Satan the pleasure of any hint of victory, always referring to Scripture he learned in his youth in rabbinical studies. Satan’s three attempts at tripping up the savior of all creation were direly unsuccessful.
And they all included rocks and stones. Pieces of earth.
Temptation comes into my life with pieces of earth attached. I usually fall for it. I am tempted to trust in what I know, what I can touch and see and hold in my hand, store in my bank account, keep in my cupboards.
I am burdened, weighted with the gathered pebbles of personal comfort, rock walls I’ve built to protect myself, shards of granite I keep to hurl at others, just in case I need to protect myself.
I keep stones as souvenirs of success and failure, mostly failure. They are lifeless statues, mineral proof of the offerings Satan presented to me that I accepted and called my own.
But there is a Living Stone.
“Come to the Lord, the living stone rejected by the people as worthless but chosen by God as valuable. Come as living stones and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests.” (I Peter (his name means pebble!) 2:4-5)
This Living Stone walked on the ground gravel and dust of this earth, he hungered and suffered.
He knew well the draw of the seemingly substantive soil of this life, he knew the satisfaction of food and the desire for security.
But as much as he was a man, he had the living of eons past and future running in the veins of his spirit — here walked on the earth the very creator of the earth! Terra firma, solid earth, holds little sway over someone who spoke the universes into space. We can exchange the rocks of our experience and become living stones! What a concept!
When we are filled up with the dead stones of our existence, tired of playing King of the Hill on our personal piles of power, exhausted by the burdensome stones of shame of painful pasts, then will we look to the Living Stone?
Will we lay our rock collections down?
We don’t have to be buried alive under the stones of our existence. There is a Living Stone. His name is Jesus. He slept on rocky beds in the wilderness so you don’t have to.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. Psalm 61:2-3 (KJV)
I’m currently on take two of reading the New Testament through as a complete book in forty days. I highly recommend trying this!
Interesting reading on Fasting by Donna Partow