I have found myself in this time of lent thinking about the temptations I suffer as a falling creature from heaven. As I see myself in the context of today’s world of war and with the difficulties we have in working together as a community, the temptation of power has surfaced to the top as something to work on. With this backdrop, I have found myself in prayer meditating and discerning with Jesus and the disciples how to deal with the temptation of power as I acknowledge that I may be experiencing fear and anxiety about the future, perhaps feeling a sense of uncertainty and loss of control.
In the gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus predicting his death three times.
Jesus Predicts His Death (Mark 8:31-33)1
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Sometimes I can feel the need to exert my power, even to the point of going against God’s divine providence.
Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time (Mark 9:30-37)
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
I may even feel the need to exert my power over others. I wonder if the disciples felt anxiety and a lack of direction as they wondered what Jesus was trying to tell them, and what it meant for them.
Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time (Mark 10:32-34)
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
The temptation of power can bring out the worst in me, even to the point of “mocking and spitting” when I feel threatened by others, but it can be more subtle as I try to control other’s thoughts and actions. During this lent, I can be honest with myself and acknowledge that this negative energy resides within me. I can then go down on my knees, and as the man with leprosy who desires a cure from Jesus, I too ask, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)
This passion that Jesus talks about is the way of the cross that will be an example for me to deal with my passions, and in this specific story, to deal with the temptation of power. But to approach this event and carry my own cross, I must be honest with myself to identify my passions, and then humble myself before God as I acknowledge that this cross is very heavy to carry by myself and I must do so with Jesus’ help. St. Augustine, in one of his sermons, explains:
“Observe a tree, how it first reaches downwards so that it may then shoot upwards. It sinks its roots deep into the ground so that its top may reach towards the skies. Is it not from humility that it endeavors to grow? But without humility it will not reach higher. You want to grow up into the air without roots. That is not growth, but collapse.”2
When we are in this state of being separated from God and falling to these temptations, then we experience what Thomas Merton is saying in New Seeds of Contemplation3,
What Thomas Merton then proposes is:
By experiencing Jesus’ passion on the cross, I too can overcome my passions so that I can live with God’s free gifts and follow the teachings of Jesus as he states in the Sermon on the Mount, with meekness, humility, and purity of heart. In this state of peace, I can then pass on love to others as Jesus passes his love to me.