Back to the wilderness. Jesus has distanced himself from human contact in order to learn the lessons only solitude can teach. After many days of fasting and being alone, his second temptation has to do with the nature of his contact with others. His dilemma seems to be this: I want to fulfill my purpose as I see it. I need to be about the business of making a difference in the lives of others, but here I am in the middle of nowhere with no one’s voice to listen to but my own. Am I supposed to just wander into town from here and expect people to start listening to me? What can I do that will convince others of who I am and what I am about?

crowdThe possibility offered to him was to do something dramatic. Make a big splash, show them something miraculous. The metaphor Jesus used in telling the story was that he could jump off the temple tower and land on his feet without a scratch, because God would take care of him.

Well, that ought to do it. Who wouldn’t get on board with someone who has that kind of power and isn’t afraid to use it. No one really wants to follow someone who promotes meekness, forgiveness, and compassion.

So what is there in this temptation that I need to learn and unlearn? Relationships are not built on power and control. Relationships, and their transformative power, are built on openness, vulnerability, and forgiveness. I can do my best to impress people, but that is not the same as having a relationship with them. Impressing people may gain their admiration and perhaps even their compliance, but it does not invite their trust, respect, and love.

If I am to fulfill my purpose as I define it, I cannot muscle my way through. I can’t dazzle my way through. I can’t bluff my way through. Believe me, I have tried. Honesty, integrity, humility, and compassion are the quiet tools I must use in inviting people into my life and in purposefully finding my way through the world.

There’s at least one other little lesson for me to unlearn in this story.

A life-long assumption of mine: if I am a good person, if I do what I think is right, if I treat people the way I want to be treated, all that stuff, I will land on my feet when I fall. I will not stub my toe, or “dash my foot against the stone” as the Bible says. I will be taken care of.

I must unlearn that. Life does not always work like that. We often land on our face. We skin our knees, we suffer. I am not taken care of in the ways I expect. The important words for me are “in the ways I expect.” I must be cautious about my expectations, because my expectations almost always favor me and my comfort, and life does not work that way.