Thank God for technology. Sometime last month, I installed Audio Bible on my computer and one of the first passages I used to try out the program randomly was Mt 4 from the first verse. God works in mysterious ways. Hearing the deep deliberate voice helped me become much more aware of the unconscious motivation and push behind many of my actions.
The story of how Jesus was tempted is one of the most popular and known in Christendom. Yet it also enjoys the status of the most dismissed and somewhat trivialized as another of those almost boring and historically inaccurate tales, whose only lesson is that we would all be tempted. I was taught in Bible Knowledge in primary school; and in Christian Religious Knowledge in high school, we went subtly exegetical by studying the differences in the narration of Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the temptations. These and so many homilies on and about the temptations of Jesus in the desert gave me the illusion that I knew all there was to know about it.
In all but one of the instances where the devil tempted him, he always started with this phrase “if you are…” In the last temptation he didn’t start with it but threw it in at the end for good measure. This for me is a daring comment. The phrase on its own is not just a temptation but the temptation.
I had a reputation for doing stupidly fearless and heroic things. I even surprise myself many times by doing things I never planned or imagined I could do. Among my peers in high school, I was the only one who could dare into a compound where there was a guard dog to pick up fruits, I was the only one who could pick up “devil beans” as it is called and rub it all over my arms and legs. I was the only one who would try to save a puppy in the middle of a busy road, and so many other not so holy activities peculiar to the age I was at the time. I remember an occasion in which my elder brother jumped from a cupboard inside my aunt’s room and his head collided with a speeding ceiling fan. I remember the conversation that ensued just before he jumped contained a lot of “if you are…” Another vivid experience that comes to mind now is one I had with a few friends of mine one Saturday afternoon. We were sitting together under a shade in front of a friend’s house who was doing his laundry just discussing and drinking garri. After some time one of my friends who knew me well said that he will put detergent (omo) in the garri and asked if any one will drink it. His exact words were “George, if you are a man, drink this garri”. I don’t know how those words affected me and I actually took some of the garri mixed with omo and drank it. Of course I suffered for it for some days.
Even before we as children became familiar with the story of Jesus’ temptation and its exegetical implications, we already were familiar with the power inherent in the words if you are. Echoes of if your papa born you well, cross this line or if you know say your name na Christian, touch me again usually accompanied our retuning from school in the evenings as a prelude to already scheduled fights. There is always a profound need that capitalizes on the exuberance of youthful energy and psychological insecurity to want to prove oneself to others or to the world especially if accompanied with those potent words or if they are implied in the dare. Many fights and other extreme negativities have started simply because a rival of some sort dares to challenge the machismo of a youth, who gives in to violence because of a subconscious feeling of not being good enough yet, or not being recognized enough yet.
Interestingly, this potent spur to action only works effectively in the negative. I am yet to hear of a situation where the words if you are a man, graduate with distinction actually incited one into doing just that and more as it would do if it was used to provoke physical aggression.
I know now that if I was in the place of Jesus in the desert, I would have failed all the tests. I probably would have fallen to all the temptations just because the tempter used the phrase “if you are…” all because I will be trying to prove myself unnecessarily. However, wisdom they say is in the middle; - avoiding the extremes. Falling both consciously and unconsciously always to the temptation of trying to prove oneself and abilities isn’t the best way to be a youth and a Christian just as laying back lazily and lackadaisically approaching every challenge is tantamount to apostasy. Because of our high energy reserve, we usually have a hard time not overindulging and staying in the middle. So succinctly put, wisdom is in being acutely aware and educating the ability in us youths to check the tendency to showoff even when it is most unnecessary and to know just when and how to be keyed up. Wisdom knowing when and just how to be wise and when and just how to be foolish enough to be the best possible balanced individual that our creator intended us as youths to be especially at this significant stage of our lives
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