Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, and for forty days was tempted by the Devil. Luke 4:1
Oh, that crafty Devil! Good thing Jesus couldn't be lured into temptation - unlike me. I probably would've turned those stones to bread right off the bat (as I sit here eating the pretzels I just couldn't resist on my trip to CVS). But just who or what is this 'Devil' anyway? Is this the demon that turned poor Linda Blair's head in The Exorcist? Is it the same Ha-Satan in the Book of Job? Or is it the guy in the red suit with horns and pitchfork, characterized by Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live?
If your answer is the character found in the Bible, then you still have some 'splaining to do. Because there's a variety of definitions for this adversary, as 'satan' is often translated. Add to these, appearances in the sacred texts of Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism. Also take into account how some names originated as insults against gods of other nations, such as Beelzebub, which probably was the Philistine god, Ba'al Zabul.
With all of this ambiguity, what are we to make of this 'Devil' who came out into the desert to give Jesus such a hard time? Maybe the gospel writers made him up, created a literary device in order to show how Jesus came to understand his calling (after all, there weren't any witnesses with cell phones out there to capture what went down; Jesus didn't post pictures on his Facebook page).
Knowing the development of this character leads me to believe this was the case. The gospel writers wanted to show us a vivd picture of Jesus wrestling with his own thoughts and temptations about what he felt called to do and be. You might say Jesus was on a vision quest, a walkabout or a silent retreat. If you've ever been on such a retreat you know that wrestling with your inner demons is all part of the experience. And when I say 'inner demons,' I mean those that have been created within us by other people, by our culture, as well as by our selves.
Temptation is real, no doubt about that. I believe that Jesus was really tempted and really could have chosen to follow a very different path. All the things the 'Devil' offered were good: food for the hungry, a benevolent rule over all the world, safety and protection from all harm. You could say that the temptation was not of giving into the power of evil, but of doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
In a way, having an external power to blame for our internal struggles is easier than taking responsibility for them ourselves. We must be as self-aware as Jesus was, as in touch with the Spirit, as willing to follow the leading of Spirit rather than ego as Jesus was. That's our Lenten discipline. Giving up chocolate or taking on a new practice is irrelevant if we're not doing it for the right reason.
So I'm giving up the 'Devil' for Lent. That means I'm left with myself, which gives me plenty of temptation to work with. But I'm in good company: Jesus and all the faithful followers of the path he chose.
Blessings to us all on the journey!