It takes a person of extraordinary personal strength to not give in to temptation, especially in a modern world that seems to only get better at the temptation game.
There’s an episode of Futurama called “A Fishful of Dollars,” that starts out with Fry having a dream in which he realizes that he’s in class in nothing but his underwear. Suddenly, the dream turns into an advertisement for Lightspeed Briefs, a brand of ridiculously expensive underwear. Fry, upon waking, relates his strange dream to his coworkers, figuring it just a strange fluke that he dreamed in advertising. Sadly, his cohorts related to him that it’s a fairly common advertising technique now, to broadcast advertising in dreams.
Fry becomes noticeably wigged out and defiant in the face of this perceived invasion of privacy. Then, the following exchange occurs.
Leela: Didn’t you have ads in the 21st century?
Fry: Well sure, but not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio, and in magazines, and movies, and at ball games… and on buses and milk cartons and t-shirts, and bananas and written on the sky. But not in dreams, no siree!
The joke, of course, being that we’re so saturated with advertising that we don’t even realize it until we take a moment to actually see how much advertising is out there, and how susceptible we are to advertising. Never before have we lived in a world so thoroughly dominated by advertising in the public–and private!–spheres. For instance, right now, I’m listening to Spotify, which I am quite the fan of. It’s fantastic technology, to be able to simply listen to almost any kind of music in the world as long as you’re connected to the internet. It’s also relatively cheap, and gives you 2 ways to pay: either you pay a monthly fee and have unlimited, uninterrupted music, or you pay with your time by having to sit through commercials. Now, I know the politics of streaming services are becoming a much stickier subject than many would like to admit, but for the price of losing time, I think it’s worth it to listen to commercials. Musicians have to eat too, and since paying for music the traditional way is a luxury difficult to justify at this point in my life, advertising will have to be how I do it.
But there is a cost to being advertised to, isn’t there? It’s somewhat intangible, but it is definitely there. It costs time, it costs your attention, but it also costs a bit of your spirit, in a way. There is always something that can weaken your resolve. We all have our weaknesses. I know I can’t go into a Half-Price Bookstore without buying something. For some people, it’s JC Penny. For others it’s a craft store, or hardware store, or a music supplies store. Pick your poison. We all have weaknesses.
What’s good to remember is that even Jesus was tempted. The extended version of Jesus’s temptation is found in Matthew 4:1-11, and it’s one of the most surreal and most telling stories of Jesus that I know, because it somewhat relies on dream-logic. Jesus is being tempted by Satan, and is being prosecuted much like a defendant would be in a courtroom. He’s being tempted by three things:
1) Material riches. Satan takes advantage of Jesus’s hunger, knowing that he has been fasting for 40 days in the desert. He tells Jesus that if he’s hungry, he can easily turn the rocks around him into bread! He’s the son of God; he can do whatever he wants! Jesus however counters this offer in saying that “you can’t live on bread alone.” There’s more to life than material wealth, and selling your soul for a loaf of bread just isn’t worth it.
2) Spiritual power. Satan whooshes Jesus to the top of the tallest tower of the Temple of Jerusalem, and says that if he so chooses, he could fall from the top of the tower and the angels would catch him–if he but only slips. I say this is Spiritual power because it’s no coincidence that he takes him to the temple, and mentions the powers of God. It’s not physical security Satan is selling, but command of the spiritual powers of the world. Jesus responds by saying one shouldn’t test God–but isn’t Satan testing God right now? True. Jesus has no need for this gift; Jesus has all the spiritual fortitude he needs. Which brings us to the final one…
3) Political power. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says that they are his, if he but only bow before Satan. Again Jesus rebuts, but I want to examine this just a bit more closely. This may not be tempting to Jesus, but what if it was? It certainly is to us, isn’t it? Wouldn’t a powerful political savior be exactly the kind of person we would want Jesus to be? It would make so much more sense to worship a God-Emperor, powerful in majesty, rather than a poor homeless wandering day-laborer who ran afoul of the empire and got crucified. It’s certainly a lot safer, wouldn’t you say?
But that is not the kind of Messiah that Jesus is. Jesus is not the God-Emperor Messiah, but rather God incarnate, made low and of mortal flesh like the rest of us. Though he was without sin, the humility of Jesus is the key part of the story, one we ought not gloss over in favor of more spectacular images of God, be they in the Old Testament, or in Revelation. You don’t get to skip over the dirty, gritty, homeless wandering vagrant Jesus, who chose to be such.
He didn’t succumb to material wealth.
He didn’t succumb to religious influence.
He didn’t succumb to political power.
Jesus came for more. In a world of temptation, Jesus offers us something more, and reminds us that we are stronger than any temptation.