I’ve changed my mind about Jesus.
I used to think that the wilderness of temptation for Jesus was essentially limited to 40 days when he was alone in the desert. After that the devil was said to have left him alone for a while, perhaps a long while. So I thought all along that the temptations of Jesus Christ were what happened when he was alone, unaccompanied by friends or family or followers. Perhaps unaccountable to anyone else.
I now believe Jesus was tempted as well when with other people. Which was pretty much wherever he went, come to think of it. Starting with his homies there in Nazareth. In fact, it was there that the devil tempted him for the 4th time.
The 4th temptation of Christ? Really?
I believe so, and for this reason. There was something about going home to Nazareth that tempted even Jesus to be conformed to their world. To be their homeboy. To be Mary and Joseph’s son. To stay home and take care of his own people. To be……and here’s where it gets downright demonic…….possessed by his own past, and by his own hometown.
If we will notice the places Jesus went, including his hometown, it was not unusual for the people there to want Jesus to stay. Instead, he always left. Oh, sometimes they wanted him out of town, but maybe more often they wanted him to stay. Keep him all to themselves. They wanted to possess him. They hoped he would come and stay longer. But he never did. Ever. At least that I can recall. Always moved on. No one ever possessed him. Not even his own disciples, who wanted him to stay in Galilee instead of leaving for his ill-fated Jerusalem. As in "get thee behind me, Satan."
I believe Jesus was tempted, though. Tempted to stay. To be conformed to “their” world. To fit in and belong with the people around him. Call it his 4th temptation by the devil.
And I have to wonder about ourselves in our own world today. Are we only tempted when alone in some isolated wilderness where no one is around to hold us accountable? Or are we also temped when with other people who want us to be conformed to their world? To fit in and belong and behave like they do, to stay with them and not leave, and to be possessed?
People can be very possessive of us. Where the temptation to conform is concerned, people can be downright demanding of us. Stay the same as we were. Stay where we already are. Don’t leave. Don’t grow. Don’t change.
Perhaps there is a Nazareth in everyone’s life. Some place we go where we find ourselves tempted to just stay. Conform. Serve their needs. Ignore that urge to move on, or that call in our lives to go out into all the world and serve the needs of others. Perhaps we are more possessed to stay here than we ever are to go there. Perhaps the most possessive people in our lives are those where we were or still are. Perhaps this is our own 4th temptation to contend with.
Jesus resisted that 4th temptation in his own life, starting in his hometown of Nazareth. So I believe we as followers of Jesus can face, and also resist, that same temptation. Say no to conformity with the world of our own Nazareth, wherever that may be. Refuse to be possessed by anyone, even our own friends, family, or followers. Like Jesus, I believe we can say no to those who would hold us back in order to say yes to the God who calls us forward.
Yes, when we face temptations in the lonely places of this world, we will most likely return to the familiar places of people where we can again be welcomed home. That was true of Jesus as well. But when we are then tempted to just stay home and not risk those further wilderness temptations ever again, let’s all try and remember Jesus. Remember his refusal to stay in Nazareth. Remember what he said about going out into all the world, to make new friends through baptism, to serve their needs, and to take along one constant companion wherever then and there happens to be. Himself.
“Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20 TLB).