Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil, Part Two

Forty days is a very long time.  A fortieth night was still to come.

He stood now on the parapet of the temple, his arms resting on the ledge of the high walkway that stood overlooking the courts. He had been drawn here from the desert, but he had not yet left the wilderness.

To anyone passing by, he looked like a beggar; people gave him ample space when they passed.  He had cleansed himself in the mikveh as he entered, but his clothes were still tattered and unkempt, his hair and beard tangled despite his attempts to groom them, his skin drawn and windburned.  

The world seemed to be at once distant and in strange clarity in this state, as if he could see just an inch beyond earth and flesh and bone.  He gazed down at the bustle below him, and at the Holy of Holies above.  It loomed large and silent and shining in the midday sun, and it seemed to stand over the people like a beneficent king, blessing them with arms open wide.  Perhaps Herod had meant this temple for his own glory, but its beauty transcended human achievement, and its white marble walls seemed to gleam with the sunlight of heaven itself.  

He remembered coming here as a boy and seeing it for the first time.  He had been enraptured by its beauty, by its feeling of immensity.  But it was something more than its physical power which stirred his sense of wonder, something which stirred him now even more deeply than it had then.  It was the palpable presence of God.  He felt it as certainly as the warmth and light of the sun on his chest.  He could almost taste it in the air and on his tongue, like an electrical storm, but sweeter: like electricity and sugar.

When he was a boy, he had lingered here for three days, basking in this presence.  Yes, the Lord was present everywhere, but he was here, too.  Somehow, he was more  here; like a man is more completely present when resting in his own home.  Truly this was his Father’s house, his Father’s home.  Truly he rested here.  And now this home was full of guests: sons and daughters that walked busily about in the presence of God, unaware at worst, dimly aware at best, of the holiness that surrounded them.

As he watched these people now, his heart began to break for them, these sons and daughters.  An old man standing silently at prayer, his lips moving with the words of a psalmist.  A mother holding the hand of her son, the way his own mother had held his.   Even the sly, middle-aged business man hawking his doves seemed to call out to him in some unutterable language of love and need.

He was exhausted.  He was hungry.  And he loved them.  He loved them and hungered for them more than he now hungered for bread.  He tasted salt upon his lips, and realized that tears were running down his face.  He wept for them, these sons and daughters; these sheep without a shepherd.

Into his thoughts came a picture.  A shepherd’s staff was in his hand, and the people were gathered at his feet, content, at peace, secure.

if you are the son of god, show them who you really are.  let them see a miracle.  let them see you in glory.

Another picture came to his mind, of falling from where he stood, of being caught in the invisible arms of a thousand attending angels, of being lifted to the heights of the Holy of Holies, sharing in its glory, absorbing its glory, reveling in his sonship.

give them a sign.  throw yourself down, and stand upon the temple!  it is written, ‘he will command his angels concerning you’.  ‘with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone’.  if you really are his son, if he truly loves you, your father will catch you!  and they will see!  if you are the son of god, then don’t prove it by your power, as with the stones.  that was wrong.  of course that was wrong.  prove it by your father’s power.  just let yourself fall.  for the love of them, show them your father’s power.  show them that the father loves you!

The tracks of his tears had dried on his cheeks.  He could see it so clearly, and something in him longed for this, to revel in his Father’s love in the presence of his people, to show them just how much the Father loved him.  But he remembered Deuteronomy.  He remembered Moses.  He remembered water from a rock at a place called Massah – a place called The Test.  Surely, water from a rock for a thirsty people was right.  But Moses himself had been wrong.  He had doubted the Father’s patience for his people.  He had doubted the Father’s love. For that, the servant of God had not lived to enter the Promised Land.

He could feel now what was wrong with this picture of glory.  Indeed, he would be lifted up before these sons and daughters.  Indeed he would draw them to himself.  Indeed his Father would affirm his love for his Son.  But it would not be in a display of the Father’s power.  It would be in a display of the Son’s restraint, his humility.  In this, in him, the Father would be well pleased.  In this the Father would glory.

He spoke now, from the depth of his spirit through his ragged throat.  “Again it is written: ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test, as you did at Massah.’ ”

His arms trembled under his weight.  He turned from the ledge.  He began to walk, and his parched lips, like the old man’s below him, moved in a silent prayer.

“For the Lord your God, who is with you, is a fervent lover.”

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