Wednesday, February 24, 2010

temptations come in threes

the "temptation of Christ" by Michael Pacher, 1471-1481...

I have to share this simply because it is amazing. It's about the temptation of Christ, recounted in the synoptic gospels and proclaimed at the beginning of every Lent.

The temptation of Christ is the "undoing" of the original Fall. I first heard this from Dr Brant Pitre, and then I was reminded of it from a post on the blog he shares with some other scholars:

Here's the basic point. Using the threefold structure, you can line up the Original Fall with Christ's temptations, which line up quite well with the three-fold Lenten work of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

It works like this:

In Genesis 2, Eve saw that the fruit was “good for food, pleasing to the eye, and to be desired to make one wise.” We usually pass over this quickly ("ok, so she wanted the fruit..."), but nothing in the Bible is accidental. Look closely:

Good for food = temptation to love sensual pleasure over God

Pleasing to the eye = temptation love glory, beauty over God

Desired to make one wise = temptation to love self over God

visual aids!


Christ is also tempted in three ways: To turn stones into bread, to worship Satain in exchange for glory of kingdoms, and to test God by leaping from temple.

Anything look familiar?

To turn stones into bread = temptation to love sensual pleasure over God

To worship Satain in exchange for glory of kingdoms = temptation love glory, beauty over God

To test God by leaping from temple = temptation to love self over God

Of course, the eternal Son of God did not need to be tested through his temptation--but we do. So His threefold temptation--and threefold victory--is available to us through the season of Lent. We do this through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Funny, there's that number three again...

Fasting: loving God more than our sensual pleasure

Almsgiving: loving God more than the beautiful things of creation

Prayer: loving God more than our own self

John Bergsma points out in his blog the very cool point that the kings of Israel were called to overcome this threefold temptation, too, in Deut 17:16-17, but we'll leave that alone for now. Since we share in Christ's kingship from our baptism, it's a point well taken.

And about a zillion more like it could be made. The Bible is a great symphony of God's plan for his creation. And this theme of threefold desire--present in the Fall, Christ's temptation, and our Lenten struggles--is one of the great ways that He is, this Lent, undoing the fall in those who permit it. God grant us a blessed Lent!


  1. Fr. John,
    Wow, what a great explanation! This gives me lots to consider as I try to fast, pray and give this Lent.

  2. Found it! Thanks Fr. John! I'll forward it onto Tim! -Kristen