VI. Chapter Two of Jesus of Nazareth explores the “Temptations of Jesus.” We hear this narrative each First Sunday of Lent. In His baptism, Jesus has publicly accepted the mission of the Messiah; it is striking that the Spirit’s first command is to go into the desert “to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1). Like that baptism, this endurance of temptation unites Jesus to all the perils of sinful and weak humanity. “He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings … He must go through, suffering through, the whole of it, in order to transform it” (p. 26).
The desert stands for two realities simultaneously. The desert is the opposite of the Garden of Eden; it is the place of emptiness, exile, risk and insecurity. It also forcefully recalls the desert wandering of the Chosen People after they left Egypt and, grumbling against the Lord, take 40 years of struggle, hunger, thirst, rebellion, and sickness, to reach the land promised to them. The desert represents all of the sense of alienation from God’s presence; but here it is also filled with the presence of God in Jesus.
The temptations themselves “address the question of what truly matters in human life. At the heart of all temptations is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive Him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying in comparison with all apparently more urgent matters … what’s real is what is right there in front of us: power and bread. By comparison, the things of God fade into unreality, into a secondary world that no one really needs” (p. 28).