TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 22: God’s Redemptive Work in Jesus’ Human Life

Question B: What is Jesus’ basic commitment?

1. Jesus had to choose—and did choose—to live his human life in fulfillment of the unbreakable communion between him and the Father. This choice is his basic commitment.

2. Scripture testifies that his basic commitment was a religious one: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4.34; cf. Jn 5.30). Our Lord Jesus is represented as understanding his own commitment to be that of absolute obedience to God: “Lo, I have come to do your will” (Heb 10.9; cf. Ps 40.7–9). A commitment to doing God’s will is a commitment to the good of religion, that is, to that human fulfillment which consists in harmony between humankind and God. It is also a commitment to the persons involved: to humankind and to God.

3. A Christian’s act of living faith can be compared with Jesus’ basic commitment. Jesus committed himself to live as the Son he knew himself to be. This basic commitment was not a fundamental option, as question A explained, for he did not turn from sin and accept divine adoption. By our act of faith, we first accept revealed truth, then turn from sin and accept divine adoption, and finally commit ourselves to live as the children of God we thus become. Only in this last respect is our act of faith exactly the same as Jesus’ basic commitment. With him we say to the Father: Not my will, but your will be done.

4. The accounts of Jesus’ temptations clarify various aspects of his basic commitment.8 They show that by this commitment he is determined to live his human life in absolute obedience to the Father, to do and undergo everything with confidence in the Father’s loving power, and to do absolutely nothing which would involve the least compromise with evil. These aspects of his basic commitment correspond to the faith, hope, and uncompromising love of God which ought to mark the lives of Jesus’ followers.

The Gospels describe temptations of Jesus (see Mt 4.1–11; Mk 1.12–13; Lk 4.1–13). These descriptions help us understand the existential identity Jesus established by his basic commitment. It is reasonable to think that the sacred writers included these portrayals of temptation precisely for this reason.

According to the accounts, Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit, where he fasts for some time. The devil appears and suggests first that Jesus, if the Son of God, turn stones into bread. Jesus replies that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. The choice here is between satisfying a natural appetite, hunger, and carrying out the fast which had been chosen for religious motives. There is nothing inherently wrong in eating, but it would be wrong to break one’s fast out of mere hunger once one committed oneself to it in one’s effort to do God’s will. Therefore, Jesus refuses to break his fast. The reason for not breaking the fast is that he lives by the word of God—he considers what he is doing to be the Father’s will for him at this moment.

The agony in the garden (see Mt 26.36–39; Mk 14.32–36; Lk 22.39–42) has a very similar structure. Jesus faces death. He naturally fears it and the thought of avoiding it occurs to him. He sees the considerable human value in survival and would like very much to live, if it were only God’s will. But he firmly accepts death, rather than try to escape or otherwise avoid it.

The devil also tempts Jesus by suggesting that he throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple, with the expectation that God will send angels to protect his Son. Jesus answers that one ought not to tempt God. What is the issue here? Everyone committed to doing God’s will knows that in doing it he or she can count on God’s power. The consequence of this confidence is that as soon as any act seems to be what God wills, one undertakes to do it even if it seems absurd, useless, or impossible. God’s ways, however, are mysterious; often it is very difficult to see how his providence is at work in one’s life and to wait for the time when he will exercise his power to make one’s effort fruitful. It quite naturally occurs to anyone at times to ask God for some hard evidence of his loving care and support. The temptation to jump off a high place with the expectation that God will protect one would be a spectacular instance. Jesus thinks of asking the Father for some sign of his reliability, but promptly rejects this possibility. The reason is that one ought not to tempt God—that is, to put his faithfulness to the test.

The same temptation is expressed at the time of the crucifixion when some suggest that Jesus save himself by invoking the divine power in which he trusts or which he enjoys as Son, and so win the faith of those who do not accept him (see Mt 27.39–44; Mk 15.29–32; Lk 23.35–37). Why not take a short cut to glory? The choice is to endure and wait for God to act in his good time. The trust in God which Jesus shows in his own basic commitment by rejecting any such temptation is very like Christian hope which waits for Jesus himself to come.

Finally, Satan claims dominion over the world. He offers to turn it over to Jesus if Jesus will worship him. Jesus refuses, saying that worship is due God alone. According to the New Testament, Satan does have some power in the world; he is called its “prince” (see Jn 14.30). This power is not described as a matter of rights, but as a de facto situation. Sinful humankind is considered to be in Satan’s bondage, for Man in sinning abdicated human dominion and allowed Satan to usurp the role of lord of creation which had been given Man under God (see S.t., 3, q. 48, a. 4; q. 49, a. 2). To do anything wrong for the sake of one’s end, however good, is to submit to Satan’s dominion.

The temptation, as presented, is to do something wrong—that is, to worship Satan—in exchange for which he will surrender dominion, thus accomplishing the good end of liberation Jesus has in view. Jesus refuses. It is not in accord with God’s will that the Son of Man gain the whole world for God by doing anything wrong, since anything wrong is a violation of one’s own human good, which God loves, and so contrary to God’s will.

Jesus’ most intimate and loyal followers hope and expect that he will establish some sort of earthly kingdom, destroy all God’s enemies, and so accomplish redemption. Jesus refuses to do so (see Lk 9.54–55; Acts 1.6–8). One week Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, and the people expect him to bring about redemption in the manner to which the history of Israel had accustomed them: by power (see Mk 11.1–11; Jn 12.12–19). The next week Jesus is overwhelmingly rejected because he wants to be the wrong sort of king (see Mk 15.6–14; Jn 18.38–40).

8. See C. H. Dodd, The Founder of Christianity, (New York: Macmillan Paperbacks, 1970), 123–24. A helpful discussion: Samuel Parsons, O.P., and Albert Pinheiro, O.P., “Appendix 4: The Temptation of Christ,” in St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, vol. 53, The Life of Christ, ed. Samuel Parsons, O.P., and Albert Pinheiro, O.P. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), 187–94.