Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Command these stones to become loaves of bread

What was so significant about this temptation, and what would have been the consequences if Our Lord had yielded to it? There is certainly no doubt that he had the power to work such a miracle, for after all he was God who had become man. The temptor knew this, and also knew that Our Lord was on the brink of starvation.

I believe there there are two ways Our Lord would have been led astray if he yielded. He was certainly God, but in assuming a human body and a human soul he not only took on the fullness of humanity, but also willingly took on the fullness of the human condition with all its weakness. Therefore he had placed himself in total dependence on divine providence for his needs. For him to use his power to obtain food for himself would be for him not to fully share in the sufferings and limitations of humanity, but to cling to his equality to God. In doing so, he would compromise his mission to save us.

But far more serious is the miracle that he was being tempted to perform: it was one completely out of keeping with those he had done before. As St. Athanasius taught, the common pattern to all of them is that they either replicate what happens naturally in creation, or they are acts of recreation that anticipate the resurrection.

As water becomes wine by the vine drawing it up to form grapes, whose juice is fermented by yeast, water became wine at Cana. Two fish together produce many offspring, while from a few grains of wheat many more arise: hence this is replicated by miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Likewise, the healing of the sick and the transfiguration anticipate the great miracle of the resurrection from the dead.

The act of turning stones into bread however is the same as the magic that is described in the Ovid, in Grimm's fairy tales and more recently in Harry Potter. This is a power that is completely arbitary and outside creation, not imitating it or working according to its laws. Hence in Harry Potter a table becomes a pig, in Ovid houses become trees and in Grimm a frog becomes a prince. While Our Lord performs miracles that restore and complete creation, in magic power overturns the natural order and repudiates creation.

If Our Lord yielded to the temptation, our faith would have become an anti - creation gnosis, and the resurrection would have been in vain. The temptor knew and foresaw that Our Lord's miracles with bread and wine where to lay the foundations of the greatest miracle of all that concerns our nourishment: the Holy Eucharist. And he knew all too well that Christ's turning stones into bread would have invalidated it - God's power would not complete creation and restore our fallen nature, but revoke it.

How often may many of us been in a similar situation, when we may have been in a complete desert with nothing but an arid life with no happiness and no joy! If only we could change it, and in our desire for happiness overturn the order around us, and as it were, turn stones into bread! But Our Lord's rejection of the temptation goes to it's very heart: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. I shall continue on that theme tomorrow..

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