As we press on through the season of Lent, we are reminded of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (too bad Last Days in the Desert won’t be wide-released until May 2016!).

Like the middle child in most families, the second temptation is often overlooked and rolled in with the whole. Writer-priest Henri Nouwen gives it some due attention in his short book In the Name of Jesus (ht ER) in which he confesses that in his life, despite being a celebrated Harvard professor and a writer of considerable, especially spiritual, repute, he nevertheless felt the need to demonstrate whatever power he felt he had–even power he maybe didn’t have.

A common temptation among churchgoers is the desire for the Church and Christians at large to seem immune to various temptations which, it seems to me, only adds fuel to the kind of temptation that Christ himself suffered in the wilderness. Are you really redeemed? Prove it. So this second temptation of Christ becomes not just a temptation to which the Church surrenders but one that it often exacerbates, much to the anxiety of pious pew occupants everywhere–ministers, priests, and bloggers included.

6 (2)The second temptation to which Jesus was exposed was precisely the temptation to do something spectacular, something that could win him great applause. “Throw yourself from the parapet of the temple and let the angels catch you and carry you in their arms” (see Matthew 4:6). But Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself. He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say. “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test,” he said.

When you look at today’s church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among ministers and priests. Not too many of us have a vast repertoire of skills to be proud of, but most of us still feel that, if we have anything at all to show, it is something we have to do solo. You could say that many of us feel like failed tightrope walkers who discovered that we did not have the power to draw thousands of people, that we could not make many conversions, that we did not have the talents to create beautiful liturgies, that we were not as popular with the youth, the young adults, or the elderly as we had hoped, and that we were not as able to respond to the needs of our people as we had expected. But most of us still feel that, ideally, we should have been able to do it successfully. Stardom and individual heroism, which are such obvious aspects of our competitive society, are not at all alien to the church. There too the dominant image is that of the self-made man or woman who can do it all alone.