There is always the question of evil isn’t there…. The question of evil haunts all of us. Many, many people do not believe in evil. I know that, nonetheless, the question of evil haunts them too. Anyone who reads my notes knows that I value being a Christian very highly. I did not say that I was a very good Christian — those are separate issues in very many ways. But one of the primary reasons that I value my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ is because of how he dealt with evil. The question of evil has a huge draw on my attention. I am palpably and intensely aware of evil. Jesus Christ is the place where goodness interfaces most intensely with evil in my experience. The Christianity that is all about us does not always remind me of Jesus in that way although sometimes it does. Nor do I myself always remind myself of Jesus in that way although sometimes I do.
I see a tremendous and powerful amount of evil in many people who are very confident that they are good people and whose friends all say so. I see a powerful and forceful flow of evil in groups and institutions that many regard highly. I certainly see some evil in myself. I know that I am more polite to many people even in my more cussed middle-aged than many others have been to them and I respect many institutions others detract from — and yet in some cases I see huge evil lurking in these people and institutions and never doubt that it is present and active through the agency of these people and groups. So when they are around me at least, the question of evil (as opposed to evil itself) does haunt them. It haunts them in my reactions.
Evil is by its nature a very tricky sort of subject. It is not the kind of thing that one would expect to yield up all it secrets without struggle. Jesus confronted evil. Christians may disagree about many things but the truth is that all those who are not merely impostors find some significant part of the goodness of Jesus Christ in that he confronted evil. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark all recount a special instance of Jesus’s confrontation with evil once he had been baptized by his cousin John and been specially recognized by some manifestation of the Holy Spirit. St. Mark’s account is a good place to start for anyone who does not know or does not remember the Scriptures or life of Christ very well.
Mark 1: 12-13 simply states:
At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert forty days tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.
That, one might say, is the basic framework of what happened. Devils, The Spirit, angels and wild beasts are at the extremes of naming and here they all are together. Jesus went through some kind of very powerful and very real experience which is left as a mystery. Mark’s is the shortest gospel. It is he who gives us the briefest account of this event. We tend to overlook some of the big claims of the gospels and some of its big language because it is so familiar to us. One part we overlook is the idea that Jesus lost himself in the temple one Passover as an older child and amazed all the doctors and teachers of the law. Prior to his baptism this is one of the last things which the Gospels tell us about him. The Great Temple was an overwhelming place and the schools that met in its porticoes and courts were outstandingly rich and deep in scholarship. Sometimes I think that if there were any real Bible believers in the vast and varied world of professional Christian scholarship there would be book every few years about that one story. That story is related to that of the Testing and Temptation in the Desert. I will attempt to explain how.
The finding of Jesus in the Temple is one of the stories from oral tradition and what might be called pamphlets from which the Gospel writers wrote the story of Jesus. However, the Baptism and the Temptation in the Desert are part of the prologue of the Book of Signs. In the Prologue there was the Mysterion which was the first section and the Revelation which is the Baptism and Temptation more or less. As I recall the tradition I learned is that the book had 12 signs and they were less coded and concealed than the Gospels but the Mysterion had an exhortation to all writing copies to code the stories of each pearl to protect it from swine. The first sign was the wedding in Cana, the second was the Calming of the Storm, the third was the Demons and Swine, the fourth was the first Feeding, the fifth was the second Feeding (which the Gospels do not mention), the sixth was the Walking on Water,
the seventh was the third Feeding, the seventh was the Prediction of the Passion which in the Book of Signs Jesus makes at the site of a group of crucified Zealots, The Eighth was the entry into Jerusalem, the Ninth was The Devil approaches Judas, The ninth was the Cleansing of the Temple, The tenth was the Speech of the Living Waters, the eleventh was the Preparation of the Room and the Twelfth was the Last Supper. This book had a significant influence on all the canonical Gospel writers. Of all books ever written from original sources, mostly the writer’s experience of having known Jesus and the witness of his own known associates who had known Jesus, it had the most information about Jesus as a warrior.
To know what Jesus had been doing in the desert it is useful to understand the narrative of the Temple. That is simply the truth it is a very important story. We are told in another infancy narrative that Jesus went into Egypt as a child to avoid the persecution of Herod the Great. We are told also that he was visited by Wise men from the East. What the story of the boy Jesus in the temple tells us is that almost two decades before his public ministry Jesus was already very well-educated.
Jesus’s family arrived in Egypt with a valuable skill, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were a literate family with a royal pedigree and an indescribable set of recent experiences. The Great Synagogue of Alexandria was open to them directly and the The Great Library of Alexandria was open to them indirectly. They arrived there at a time when another group of persons who were not Roman Citizens were using, money eloquence and organization to increase library access to all — these were the Buddhist missionaries. I learned to read at two, Jesus had a much higher IQ than I do and his family were more royalist, strict and attentive to their own identity than mine. The child Jesus was steeped in a sense of destiny educated in carpentry, the skills of the House of David, a broad base of Judaica and yes also some Pagan and Buddhist learning. With the Buddhists and the Magi he also came to much knowledge from the far East. He would leave Egypt with a basic knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages.
Then he had some experience with his priestly relatives in Jerusalem. He had the study and dialog with the great minds of the Temple when he visited there. All of this he fermented, cultured and refined in a life of work, craft and culture in a small country town. A family resented for royal pretensions while living on more or less middle class means and being regular and ordinary members of the synagogue by most measures. Jesus had begun to attract some attention as a potential great rabbi and had some rabbinical training before he journeyed to be baptised by John. Joseph had sent him on errands to retrieve timbers and visit his own Davidic relatives. With these representatives of the House he learned to use the sling and the staff, to track the lion and the bear, to find water in the desert and use its rare herbs and resources he learned to sing the psalms and recite the promises and to adopt a royalist view of women. All this was done between a constant set of ordinary duties and so he never married. He began to refer to and hear his mother referred to as the Queen of his own world of associates and mysteries but to almost everyone he was only a good carpenter, a somewhat reserved bachelor and a lector at the synagogue.
The quiet young man had noticed that a famine was beginning in Galilee. Crops were failing, fish were dying, bandits were raiding and there were many troubles. He set off on a journey for many reasons but one was to find the source of this trouble. After being baptised by John and alone fasting and praying in the desert he found a source of these and many other woes.
It was significant that he went to see John and be baptised first. His cousin was a former Essene. There was a nexus of royalist, semi-Buddhist and Magi influences in nonetheless Jewish Israel. This was the Essene movement. Qumran and the great Dead Sea scrolls preserve of books are such a huge find that they have made modern people think that they were all that the Essenes were, but ancient libraries and organizations were different from modern ones. We know that some of John’s Followers were numbered among the twelve Apostles. As the young (but not so young) Jesus went into the desert he was followed a t a distance by a few men of great Essene learning. He was on the very short list of possible Messiahs they were watching in a crisis they saw brewing. Here the young man of perhaps thirty or so met a man more ancient than all but a few living in the world. A man who would introduce himself in Hebrew and Aramaic as Satan. Does this seem so unlikely and unusual? That is perhaps one of the costs of a vast and profound ignorance. No individual can overcome such a constructed ignorance fully alone.
When ordinary Roman troops attacked a country or civilization they often studied its religion and worshipped and propitiated its gods. Medals were struck and widely distributed honoring the local deities and these were worn by the Legions. But the Demons were far more sophisticated in religion than Rome. Their commander had learned the lore of dozens of dark cults and rites. He was the living incarnation of Pluto, Loki, Hades, perverter of Mithraism, Buddhism and many other cults. In entering Judea he channeled the force and persona of Satan. The Fallen Seraph, Corrupt Prosecutor at the Throne of God had vast knowledge of Scripture and so playing the role required some knowledge of Scripture. He had the wealth and resources to have such texts prepared for the rare occasions when he might meet a Jew worthy of a personal interview. Jesus met this impressive man who knew him from a network of spies.
What are the temptations of Christ?
They are the same three temptations in Matthew and Luke. The order of the second two varies but the oder of the first is the same, and in all of this there is a message. Jesus finds Satan near his assembling Demon administration in a remote redoubt in the harsh Judean desert. To find this would normally be death but Satan is sure that Jesus could be of great value to his enterprise. So he is offered a place in the administration. Help Satan turn the best fishermen of Galilee into meat and he and his family will be allowed to eat and live. The word “stone” or “rock” is most often used to describe one person in the Gospels — Peter. Peter was prominent fisherman already known to so observant a man as Jesus and he stands in for all those Satan would like to start capturing. Turning into pies and sausages those who produced the most food in the first Jewish target. Causing the Collapse of the Tetrarchy of the relatively weak and terrified Herod Antipas in Famine would end the last real form of Jewish sovereignty now that Judea had become a military province. Jesus could protect his own and feed his family by helping to turn these stones to bread. Satan makes the offer knowing that he has seen princes and kings gratefully accept these terms. He has around him the forces to drive all but a very few hearts to terror and despair.
“If you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread. Jesus answered “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” ”
Jesus rebukes and rebuffs and refutes he does not try to slink away. Satan knows that his first efforts have been badly misguided. He is not sure who this man is but he is not going to be even a high ranking flunkee. So he sets out to reveal to Jesus what his two options will be even should he survive this interview.
He can go to Jerusalem and call upon his ties and relations at the temple as well as his princely claim to the allegiance of the City of David. He can lead a suicidal revolt that Rome will use as an excuse to crush all Jews and which will open the path for Demons to play. Otherwise he can seek to cooperate with the Demons and they will help him to take Antipas’ throne and then make his move. They will let him operate with some dignity and respect so long as he guaranties that when he does give up hope all the power of the lives and flesh of his people will be theirs. He must be the Devil’s vassal. Since Satan is a heavenly Prince as the book of Job teaches us there is no real blasphemy here. Satan in his splendor, spiritually intense, surrounded by narcotic and hallucinogenic smokes and mists makes in the offer of kingship as generous an offer as he has ever made. While the two accounts are similar I will leave you to read Luke 4 and Matthew 4 for the accounts on your own. Jesus ends the interview and as Satan retreats he makes his way into the desert again. The gospels do not really code the next section of the story it is absent.
Jesus walks away from Satan and is followed by two demon assassins. They are strong and powerful and have orders that he not reach the settled land alive. He is weak from fasting, nights of prayer and the effects of Satan’s drugged smoke. He leads them in a very particular way at a very particular pace. He sees the white-robed Essene messengers drawing near but very far away. The assassins draw their short swords and round a rock to pin him in a small defile. They rush in but do not see him instead they see one of the few stealthy prides of lions in the Judean desert not taken to an arena. They are killed and devoured — not entirely in that order. Jesus is then met a bit further on by the Essene emissaries who with prayers to God and channeling the angels of his Holy Court attend to Jesus with food, water and help in disappearing. They note his story.
So the pacifist or revolutionary or whatever Jesus kill these demon asassins with lions. Does that change too much? The real point is that Jesus will have to deal with the facts the Devil presented. But the court he will found will not be their vassal and will not crush the smoldering wick that is the murderous Antipas who will kill his beloved cousin. He will start trouble in Jerusalem but will arrange to absorb all the pain and get all the credit in the short-term. Before that passion he will do many things the Devil cannot imagine. He will use pigs to feed Jews fish mixed with other fish, bread and other food , he will heal countless lepers (many of whom were ill with poverty and neglect fostering rashes or festering wounds) and other sick people as well and he will organize the fishermen of Galilee in such a way that even those who did not follow him directly would be richer, more active, more alert and harder to capture. He would directly lead attacks on Demon camps.
These things he did were hard for the Devil to understand or deal with. However, that was only the beginning. In his teaching and in the Eucharist he changes a fundamental advantage the Demons have always had over many of their prey. He makes it possible to think about cannibalism without practicing it. He makes it possible to prove that a great man can find dignity greater in giving up his flesh as the Bread of Life than he would in being a flesh-broker for the Demons. While the Christian heritage has often been misused and perverted it still towers high as one of the greatest confrontations of evil. He is not a pacifist and will hurt people, he is meek and humble, he cannot be discounted. He fasts but he also enjoys food, wine, the attentions of women and music. He will not yield all human pleasures to the Devil.
In the Facebook Note “War & Easter” I crossed a point of no return and began putting into public view an ancient esoteric interpretation of the Gospels which I know in my heart is true. I have continued that here and may now stop for at least a while. But the point is that for me Jesus is the most convincing case in all of the human record of full engagement with evil which is manifest by someone who is very good himself. To some Christians this view of Jesus will not be spiritual enough and seems like giving in to modern secularism. To the secular it is old-fashioned superstition. To me it is both historical and spiritual truth.
I wish you all the best in your own struggles with evil.
END OF FACEBOOK NOTE—
So have a safe and enjoyable Friday the Thirteenth.