First Sunday of Lent: Two Logics of the Flesh
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
Two Logics of the Flesh: Temptation to Dominion, Trust in the Gift.
The temptations of Jesus are the solemn portico of Lent. Here the cards are shown. Two ways of understanding human life are at stake, which are linked to two languages of the body. The first, St. John Paul II said, comes from the Creator Father: it is the language of the gift received and given. The second comes not from the Father, but from the world, and enters through the temptation of the devil: it is the “logic of mutual domination.” The three temptations that the devil poses to Christ put it forth.
First there is the temptation to turn stones into loaves of bread. It is proper to the body that it needs nourishment. In nourishment, the body opens itself to the world around it, and assimilates it. In need of nourishment, the body is dependent on the Creator and on other men. Nourishment is possible because God provides it, and for this reason nourishment is linked to thanksgiving. Bread is always the children’s bread. Moreover, food unites us to our brethren, for we eat from the same earth, becoming one body.
The devil suggests to Jesus a desire to dwell on himself. If one can turn stones into loaves of bread, one is already self-sufficient enough to satiate oneself. What is said of food can also be said of another great bodily desire: sex. In the union of man and woman there is also an original gift of the Creator, who has entrusted us with the body and united us to each other. The devil’s temptation removes from sexuality all reference beyond it: to children, to society, to God. Faced with the weakness experienced by the body, faced with the limits it seems to place on us, man today also wants to transform it. Like stones into loaves of bread, so man wants to change the machine into a body. But this implies that the body becomes a machine.
Moreover, if stones are bread, then everything is edible. Man eats, we could say, even the stones. The world loses its variety, its depth, and its mystery. Sex can also be lived in this absorbing and voracious way. Our pansexualistic society, where everything is sex, would seem to say: “let even the stones become sex…”
To the logic of domination Jesus opposes the logic of self-giving. For in food and sexuality and other desires we discover a deeper call and a deeper destiny. Man does not live on bread alone, but on bread seasoned with conversation in which the story of life is shared. He does not live by sex alone, but by sex accompanied by personal presence. It is not a matter of abandoning the body, of despising food or sex, but of understanding that these are like a tree trunk, whose roots are deeper and whose tasty fruit is higher.
Then comes the temptation to possess the earth: “All this will be yours if you worship me.” To possess the earth, to be able to build on it, to inhabit it, to plant and gather fruit… is a great desire of man. But the devil puts a price on this possession: to forget the Creator, to submit to the idol. This is what it means to “worship the devil”: to adopt his same logic of absolute independence. It would seem to be a good deal: own the land but in such a way that it is entirely for you. Let it not be a son’s land.
Now, the problem is that in this way the devil makes us forget the first of possessions, the one that allows us to situate ourselves in the world, to inhabit and cultivate the world: the body. He invites us to possess the body as well. And so he makes us forget that distinction which philosopher Gabriel Marcel spoke of between the two ways of relating to the body. The body can be a place of possession, but it can also be a place of participation in a larger reality, a place of involvement and belonging.
Jesus’ answer is: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.” This means that our relationship with the earth, and with our body as man’s “first land,” changes if we acknowledge the Creator.
Just how do we possess the body? We can only possess it if we learn to receive it. Jesus says this: no matter how hard we work, we will not add a day to our life. Health is not in our hands, and if we lose our health it is as if it were exiled from our body. It is of no use to have a thousand possessions, as the devil promises Jesus, if the body ceases to be our dwelling place. But the body is a dwelling place only if we take care of the essential relationships of life. The body is dwelling place when we belong to our family, receive our brothers and sisters, cultivate the covenant with our husband and wife… Owning the body can only be done, in reality, if we participate in a greater communion, and if we recognize the Creator as the origin of this communion. We only possess the body if we understand that in the body is written a language that precedes us, that we did not create.
Today we have forgotten that our first land and our first dwelling place is the body, and that only if we respect it can we respect the earth as our common home. It is good that today we want to safeguard the original wealth of the Earth as something that precedes us and that we cannot determine at whim. But it is absurd to do this and then forget to protect the body and its original language of man and woman. For this is man’s first land, the first place where he inhabits the world and which he receives from others.
Finally, there is the temptation to ask God to intervene miraculously: “throw yourself down from above and let the angels of God come and save you.” Here there is a lack of trust: we have to force things to see if God really loves us. It is in the first place the logic of suspicion, the same as that of the serpent with Eve: is God really good? And this is based on another suspicion: are God’s gifts good? Is this body that He has given you good, with its language of man and woman and the gift of itself and procreation? Throw yourself from up here, that is, force God to act outside the body and its laws.
Moreover, here there is a temptation to impatience. It was the temptation of the people in the desert when they made themselves the golden calf. They wanted to have a visible image of God, for Moses was slow to return from the mountain. God asks us for patience because he wanted to show himself in the body.
Indeed, the flesh needs time to recognize our origin, to weave promises, to cultivate fruits. To say: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” is to say: “You shall not hasten the Lord your God.” According to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the temptation of our first fathers was this: to want to be like God before the time, without taking the trouble to forge one’s own humanity first.
Thus we have the opposition of these two logics in the two temptations. It is the logic of the fulness gained by bread and sex against the logic of the relationship that is given in food and sex. It is the logic of the solitary possession of the land against the logic of the common ground that is received and built together. It is the impatient logic of immediate satisfaction against the logic that knows how to wait, because it builds a common time and ripens a greater fruit.
The Gospel says that the devil withdrew until another time. It will be the garden and it will be the cross. On the cross, the body of Jesus will fully forge the language of the beginning. There the body will take its true form. There Jesus thirsts again, thirsting for God and for God to reach mankind. The vertical shaft of the cross reminds us: desires are only fulfilled upwards. There Jesus will be stripped of everything, but he will extend his arms to possess everything completely. The horizontal shaft is the body that opens to possess and inhabit a shared world. There Jesus shows patience until death, and only then does he surrender himself confidently into the Father’s hands, because “he has commanded his angels” so that they will not stumble in their steps.