Commentary on the Gospel of
Luke tells us that when the devil had exhausted “all manner of testing Jesus” (or “every temptation”) he departed for the time being. How did devil capture every possible temptation in those three specific ones that Luke reveals to us?
Some translations tell us that Jesus was tempted throughout the forty days in the desert, and then at the end of it all, Luke specifies three typical ones. To understand how these three types of temptations exhaust every possible category, we can perhaps take the help of the Maslowian hierarchy of needs.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) famously gave us the theory of hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs are at the bottom, with the strongest pull on us. Once these needs are fulfilled to a certain extent, safety needs emerge—need for a decent job, house, etc. On fulfilment of these needs to a reasonable degree, we want to love and be loved as well as to belong to a group with a sense of identity. Then arises the need to be esteemed by our peers and society. Finally, the need for self-actualization emerges—to become what one is capable of becoming. The first three types of needs are D-needs (deficiency needs); the latter two are B-needs (being needs).
Though this Maslowian theory has its limitations and critique, it does resonate well in our lives. And it explains the categories of temptations of Jesus as well. The first temptation Luke refers to is all about the physical needs of a human being—the very fundamental need for food and drink to survive, to safeguard one’s life. The temptation addresses the D-needs of Maslowian hierarchy. The third temptation is a direct trap to arouse the needs for esteem(a B-need): to work a miracle out of one’s own power and talents and thereby impress people, gain esteem, respect, admiration, and status in society. And the second and central temptation the devil throws at is the highest B-need: need for self-actualization—to be the master of one’s own destiny and claim the universe for oneself! In tempting Jesus through these three means, the devil has deftly managed to arouse the entire scale of needs of human psyche.
But Jesus sees through the treachery of the devil. Jesus proclaims that a God-oriented human being does not survive on physical nourishment alone, nor does he need human praise and status, but for him or her, God alone is the center of life and worthy of adoration. In other words, a God-oriented person lives by a hierarchy of transcendental values far outweighing the transitory pull of needs.
To Do Today: What are your core temptations? Which categories of needs do they correspond to? How can you overcome them as Jesus did?