Scriptures invite a literary interpretation not a literal one. The literal is easy because it shows everything as two-dimensional, right and wrong being the two most popular dimensions for people whose religion is a firewall against God rather than a way of worshiping. Eventually, in two-dimensional reality, you don’t need God at all, just the scriptures and the man-made rules invented to define and defend your interpretations. But the forty-day journey teases this religion apart, allowing the dimension of transcendence to escape.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
The third temptation is the big one, not greed or vanity but naked egotism. In political terms this is the difference between a society built on self-serving corruption, or on an honours-based power system, and one revolving around a demagogue whose narcissism enthrals or cowers any ego weaker than itself. This is the brute ego, secretly wounded as any bully is, exposed in a flash of evil that is the more frightening because from one angle it is so ridiculous.
Meditation is the journey of the forty-days in the desert that gets us securely positioned in this angle where we can see the utter vacuousness of the ego. Then something moving and utterly tender can happen. The dark satanic ego crumbles and good angels are set free. These are no longer twisted in the crystallised forces of self-centredness. They run around unleashed, looking for good things to do, griefs to console, people to listen to, hungry mouths to feed, lonely souls to bring into community.
When you see these things happening anywhere in daily life – a small act of kindness on the subway, a smile where you expected a stare, another second chance – you feel you see a force at work. It is greater than the visible agents who are performing them. Yet there is no visible messenger (the meaning of angelos is ‘messenger’).There is only the primary, perennial message of human kindness being transmitted from one person to another.
So the devil left him, to return at a later time, St Luke’s gospel ominously remarks. But before that happens… we know the tests we should be on the watch for in the coming days.