I find especially evocative James Tissot’s portrayal of Jesus’ posture in two of his paintings of Jesus’ three Temptations. In the latter two, Jesus faces away from the tempter, even if he looks at what the devil points him toward seeing. Tissot’s paintings capture a subtle but important feature of Luke’s presentation of these stories. Luke tells us that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and led by the Holy Spirit, in the wilderness. And Luke describes Jesus in this manner before the devil leads him up to a high place, or takes him to Jerusalem. Tissot is therefore faithful to Luke when he portrays Jesus as inwardly at peace, self-possessed and prayerful during the second and third temptations. Luke’s description of Jesus also suggests that he did not fear his temptation by the devil. So, after our Baptism into his death and resurrection, and after receiving the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit, why should we ever fear temptation? Even when we succumb to it! For we can always repent and return to the Lord.
Luke’s description of Jesus as full of the Spirit, and Tissot’s image of the self-possessed Jesus, provide us with a further insight. A significant part of what I think of as ‘Jesus’ self-possession stems from the fact that he is not captive to others, and not captive to material possessions. Self-possession is focussed within; possession by things and by other people happens when we are distracted by what is around us. And so, self-possession is an antidote to being possessed by our possessions. For self-possession then makes possible self-giving. This is why we should want to distinguish self-possession from our negative experience of self-absorption and self-orientation. This is because self-possession and self-giving are natural and spiritual corollaries.
This helps us see how Jesus’ temptations are so revealing about his acceptance of his vocation. For his temptations are all about how he has given himself over to God’s purposes for him, rather than about what he might take or receive for himself. In accepting his vocation to serve both God and other people, especially in his Passion and death, Jesus exemplified self-giving.
The paintings above are James Tissot’s, Jesus Taken Up Into an High Mountain, and Jesus Carried Up to a Pinnacle of the Temple. This post is based on my homily for Sunday, March 10, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.