Three Temptations of Jesus - Relevancy, Spectacular, Powerful

Henri Nouwen writes in his book In the Name of Jesus there are three temptations Jesus faces in the desert with Satan. He frames them as:

Jesus is the leader, we are followers  -  Photo by  Kevar Whilby  on  Unsplash

Jesus is the leader, we are followers  -  Photo by Kevar Whilby on Unsplash

  • Relevancy - turning stones into bread
  • Spectacular - leaping off the temple
  • Powerful - bowing to satan

Why is power a temptation? Nouwen mentions one of the great mysteries of leadership when he says, "leadership, for a large part, means to be led." Christians are called to follow Jesus, not lead him. Christian leaders are those who show others how to follow properly. 

For the largest part of the Christian tradition, too many leaders fall for the temptation of power for noble reasons. Nouwen says, "We keep hearing from others, as well as saying to ourselves, that having power - provided it is used in the service of God and your fellow human being - is a good thing." Then he is quick to point out that this is the same rationalization for the Crusades, enslaving native people, the inquisition, opulent buildings, etc. 

The most cutting critique of power Nouwen makes is that "power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love." It seems it is easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than love life. Jesus asks, 'Do you love me?' We ask, 'can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your Kingdom?'"

Rather than upward mobility, Nouwen echos other thinkers as he promotes downward mobility leadership. It is "leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love."