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Who is the Tempter? (Chap. 4, verse 4)

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread

Is not the devil right? Who can contradict him? Jesus says to be God. If he is hungry it’s enough to say a word or to raise a finger, who immediately he has what he wants. As a very rich or powerful person, who can afford everything, he orders something that immediately every desire becomes reality. Before understanding the words of Christ, it is necessary to admit that the devil’s proposal is the one that every sensible person would accept: Are you hungry? Eat something! Why deprive yourself of food, making the stomach gurgle and making you nervous with others? The «If thou be … command that …» is the model of every temptation or rather of any devious insinuation that tests the recipient of these words. In fact here the devil is called tempter, i.e. he who tests, insinuates, alludes. He knows us, almost better than Jesus. He seems to the true friend of the man who wants to satisfy his instincts, immediately, without delay.

There are many faces and voices that that tempter represents, beyond any simplistic and reductive reading. Certainly, many identify the tempter with a personal being, a true character just like Jesus. An evil and perverse being who tries to get Jesus off the road. However those words also represent something else. Something or someone with whom it is impossible not to confront and which is very difficult to remove from us and perhaps it is not even right. In fact, Christ did not dismiss this mysterious character immediately, but only at the end, accepting what he had to say to him. And this is important.

If we remove from us voices and words that scandalize us, that provoke us, that break our image of good and respectable people, we will not even move a step toward a more satisfying life.

Does it mean that you have to come to terms with the tempter? We have to listen what does not fit with our ideas about life, religion, faith. At first, we don’t have to compare the tempter’s words with the word of Jesus. We have to carefully examine what the tempter says.

It is too easy to say that these words are the words of Satan and that you don’t have to listen him. In fact these insinuations will last, they will persevere for years and years. Sooner or later, they will make us succumb, precisely because they represent a way of thinking well accepted by people. 

The gospel says that the tempter came to him. To come is a verb that corresponds to the Greek proserchomai and it is generally referred to a concrete person who approaches someone else. Therefore it cannot be said that the tempter is an abstract entity, if not a person, almost in flesh and blood. A person who represents the darkness not of hell, but of what we don’t know or what we don’t want to know about ourselves. 

It is a person who gives voice to what is true: in this case, the satisfaction of an appetite. An impertinent person, out of the rules, who scandalizes, makes us discuss, but who still tells the truth, who knows about us. Can we repress for a whole life instincts and passions that tickle our imagination and our senses? The verses of the gospel, when they talk about things like these, enclose in a few words what may be the experience of a whole life spent repressing instincts and passions.

Is it a person who wants to lead us to eternal damnation? Think of it as you wish, but you cannot ignore what is concealed within yourself, having clear the purpose and the goal you want to achieve. This is important and decisive. This is the distinction between an advisor and a tempter. But we have to pay attention. If you accept without discernment what comes from within us, every instinct, every passion, without restraint and without limits you can really go to hell, but not (only) that of afterlife. You can be at the hell in this life.

We can decide the direction. The person – no matter how tempting it is – gives just voice to what we want to suffocate, but he cannot decide for you. And if the direction is to become free, to follow without fear the path that the eternal Father has marked for you, there is no other way than to listen, to understand who we are and what we really want Jesus knew clearly what he wanted, yet he listened the “devil” that had ideas very different from Jesus ideas!

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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