Movie of the Week: The Greatest Story Ever Told by George Stevens 1965
Clip: 31:00 – 36:40
Old Testament: Psalm 32
New Testament: James 5:16-18
One of the moments in Jesus’ life that is portrayed with the most diversity in the movies is the devil’s temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4. The text says that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. What exactly this looked like is largely left to the Gospel readers’ imaginations. Stevens’ portrayal highlights the devil in the form of a human tempting Jesus through his earthly desires. Note how the man is eating as he speaks to Jesus – how would Jesus even be able to concentrate on what the devil said in his state of hunger? Satan quotes Scripture and tempts Jesus with power and prestige (in addition to the food!)
I’m not sure we can every know the depth and intensity of the devil’s temptations of Jesus but watching the interpretation on screen can help prompt our own reflection on our own temptations. Sin isn’t a fun topic but one of the real values of observing Lent is that it gives us a time dedicated to taking a personal assessment of our spiritual vitality. Seldom does sin present itself simply as a choice – yes is a sin; no is a win. Sometimes it is like that, but usually it’s more like a slow and gradual test of boundaries. Often, we end up deep in a tangled web of sinful consequence before we even realize it.
One of the antidotes for temptation the Bible offers God’s people is the discipline of confession. Notice at the heart of Jesus’ temptation was isolation. The Spirit “led him away into the wilderness” – alone – right where the devil wanted him. At its heart, confession combats isolation. Left to our own devices we usually fall short. No wonder God’s plan has always been corporate salvation. He made a covenant with the people of Israel; he brought salvation to God’s people as Christ’s church. Repeatedly, the Bible emphasizes the power of being a part of God’s family. Confession is the sacrament of bringing others into our sin. By speaking our sins to one another, we disarm them. We deny their power. The problem is the enemy prefers it when we keep things to ourselves.
One of the exemplary practices of the Catholic Church is confession. We may not like that it is so institutionalized, but often the result of non-institutionalized confession is we just don’t ever do it. If it is not part of our routines or a recognized practice of our church, we find it difficult to bring ourselves to confess our sins. After all, who would ever want to just dump all the bad stuff we’ve done and thought on some poor, innocent soul? Why would we want to bog them down with our own problems? They have enough problems of their own – or at least that’s how the Enemy’s logic convinces us to keep things to ourselves. This practice is going to take – well . . . some practice. Spend some time today thinking about how you can follow the teaching of James and confess your sins to another brother or a sister. If you aren’t Catholic and aren’t sure who you can talk to about your sins, talk to your minister or find someone at your church you can talk to. Don’t allow yourself to be talked out of it – isolation is right where the devil wants you.
Getting something off your chest is an incredible feeling. Finding the nerve to reach out to someone to confide in is the hardest part. We have largely outsourced confession to professional counselors. Of course, counselors serve an essential role in our communities for mental health, but there is also an important role for the discipline of confession that can help alleviate much of the stress you are holding onto. As Richard Foster writes, “God has given us our brothers and sisters to stand in Christ’s stead and make God’s presence and forgiveness real to us.”
 Martin Scorsese famously imagined what Jesus’ temptations may have been like in his controversial movie The Last Temptation of Christ.
 Ibid., 147.