I regret not writing this play directly about the temptation of Jesus itself. Instead, I quailed a bit at the prospect of creating good drama out of a situation I couldn’t help but see as utterly undramatic. (If Satan tells you to do anything, you just say no, don’t you? You shouldn’t even have to come up with any reasons why not.) So instead, I wrote this play about temptations experienced by various other characters, some or all of which might mirror the temptations of Jesus in what I hope will be interesting ways. But I still wonder about the play that might have been.
Take that first temptation. Like the second temptation, this one’s about tempting Jesus to prove his bona fides. (“If you’re really the Son of God…”) Unlike the second temptation, however, Jesus doesn’t reply directly to the essence of the temptation. (“You shall not put God to the test.”) Instead, he gives a reply that at first glance seems like a total non sequitur. It’s as if I said to you, “If you’re really a good auto mechanic, fix this car,” and instead of responding to the real issue by saying something like “I don’t have to prove anything to you,” or “I’m not going to do anything just because you snap your fingers,” or “Stop being such a jerk!” you replied, “It’s important to support public transit systems, too, you know.”
Now, from a religious, spiritualizing point of view, this is actually a good thing. It allows us to think about what Jesus might be teaching about all kinds of things: the relationship of the body to the soul, the virtues of delayed gratification, the importance of presence in the moment, and on and on. However, in the Wineskin Project mindset of cutting through interpretive frameworks to read the raw text as it stands alone on the page, to imagine the actual event as it occurred in the world, this is a real puzzle.
Another puzzle has to do with Satan’s use of scripture in the second temptation. Even though the central thrust of his attack was to play on Jesus’ Messiahship (again: “If you’re really the Son of God…”) the scripture he uses to back up his second tempting is one that applies to all followers of God. Now again, this doesn’t present any problems from a Sunday School Lesson standpoint, because it allows us to talk about how the temptations didn’t just apply to Jesus, but apply to all of us, etc., but when reading the story Wineskin Project style as if for the first time, as if there were no religion currently built around it, it’s an oddity. It’s as if, in my auto repair analogy again, I had said, “If you’re really a good auto mechanic, parallel park this car – because everybody should be know how to parallel park!”
At this point, I’m tempted to end this post with the line, “At this point, I’m tempted to write the play directly about the temptation of Jesus, after all, but I won’t.” But I won’t.