One theme in my writing that you will hear often is that we are called to be the light to the world and the salt of the Earth. When we are living our faith, then we are a sign to others of greater truth than people can find here on Earth. A reason why this is important can be found in today’s Gospel. It is one of those lines that is not so obvious at first. In fact, it is an example of not what is said, but what is not said.
We see the formula: If you are the Son of God, then turns these rocks into loaves of bread. Jesus explains that we do not live on bread alone: in other words, bread feeds only the body, but we must also feed the soul through our communion with the Father through Jesus Christ.
The same pattern follows the next two temptations. So, as you read this passage carefully look at what Jesus does not refute. If you were watching this from the sidelines, you might realize something powerful was communicated by what was not said and wonder to yourself if anyone else noticed.
The devil tells Jesus that all power and kingdoms are given to him. Jesus does not disagree. As a matter of fact, he does not say anything after the devil makes that statement.
That is a significant declaration Jesus makes, by saying nothing.
You see the devil points out that all political power has been given to him. We must choose to be loyal to Christ in order to represent that which has a greater power than even the devil. So, just as bread without food for the soul is ultimately not lifegiving, so is obedience to political power without rooting ourselves in Christ not peacemaking.
Notice also that political power that is not rooted in seeking what is the greatest good for human beings is a dangerous and at times evil thing. We have seen it many times even in our own history.
St. Paul says that we must obey civil authority, but we only obey civil authority in our service to Christ. We are loyal to Christ, and therefore, we obey civil authority. Everything we do must first be rooted in our loyalty to Christ. If we were to choose to disobey civil authority, we must first ask if we are, in the process, disobeying Christ.
These two realities are intrinsically linked to the point that obedience to Christ must precede our obedience to civil authority. Our disobedience to civil authority is valid if it is obedient to Christ and invalid if it is disobedient to Christ. So, Obedience to Christ becomes the standard.
For example: Jesus never tells us to be disobedient to the emperor, ever, although he clearly did not agree with him. He also tells us that we are to pay him what he says we owe. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s render unto God what is God’s. So, in our obedience to God we render unto Caesar. But if we reject God, then either we will reject Caesar to our temporal peril or we will make him a God to our temporal and eternal peril.
This is because our first loyalty is always to Christ and if that is the case, then Christ will show us how to obey Caesar. If our first loyalty is always to Caesar, then our obedience to Christ will only be in the context of how we serve Caesar. Caeser will reign supreme, but Caeser without Christ is the devil’s force.
If you take this to its ultimate end, you will notice that our response to the demands of Caesar can depend on our obedience to God. However, if we are not first obedient to God, then we cannot discern whether Caesar is right or wrong.
This is where that statement or lack thereof of Jesus becomes important. Civil authority that knows Christ but rejects him, loses its anchor on what is and is not right or wrong. It has no magnetic north to its compass and cannot discern what is truly right and what is truly wrong.
Those who are most loyal to Christ will know whether the civil society is on its way to its summit or its collapse for they will see what others do not. The problem is of course that such people are always in the minority and often are ignored as they try to inform more and more people whether or not the emperor is indeed wearing any clothes.
As you begin your Lenten discipline, remember the reason for Lent is to draw closer to Christ and to act more like Christ. The more we are closer to Christ the more we will discern the truth from the falsehood, an urgent skill always, but especially for the upcoming year.
Cover Photo: William Orpen - The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles public domain