This passage depicts Jesus' famous temptation by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights during his trial. This passage is cited by Christians as proof of the fact that humans have free will. Jesus, despite being the Son of Man, is given a choice as to whether he is allowed to choose salvation or damnation, ruling over the kingdom of earth or heaven. Jesus chooses the path of God, of course, and is not deterred by the temptation to turn from the path of righteousness. He states that he needs spiritual rather than human bread for his primary sustenance.
This passage is a metaphor for the ability of the human mind to withstand suffering. Humans cannot live on 'bread alone' in the sense that they need more to 'feed' themselves than earthly food. Food merely nourishes the body, while spiritual truths nourish the mind and heart forever. Jesus can do without food, but not without truth.
From a spiritual perspective, this story illustrates the truth of Christ's mission upon earth. Christianity holds that Christ is humanity's one, true savior, and this tale illustrates his goodness in the face of the ultimate, satanic evil. Christ is able to withstand the temptation of ruling over the world in a temporal fashion -- instead he desires to save the world, rather than merely act like an earthly king.
Christ also is firm in his resistance of despair. The devil tempts Christ to test Christ's power by flinging himself to the ground from a great height. Christ refuses, demonstrating that his goodness is not manifested in miracles (because clearly he could summon angels to help him) but in his willingness to resist the devil, which is the true miracle inherent in the story.
Another Christian point of importance in this story is the resistance to suicide. By refusing to fling himself from the temple at Jerusalem, Christ manifests the strength of will He wishes all of us to follow. Although we may be faint of hunger and faint in spirit, we can follow Christ's example and still hold ourselves back from the plunging cliff before us, and follow the path to God. We can resist the temptations of satanic power and satanic despair alike, because both are conjoined.
From a theological perspective, there is a very important point illustrated in this passage, namely the importance of free will. Christ clearly had free will when he made his choice to die on the cross and turn from Satan. This illustrates his human nature. All human beings have free will when they turn away from evil -- Adam and Eve may have sinned with their free will, but we do not have to do the same. We can act like Christ, not like Adam and Eve.
The idea that human beings cannot live by bread alone is one of the most powerful notions set forth in the Bible. Even many artists have invoked this principle, noting that they need more than mere, earthly aspects of the world to make them feel as if they are living a meaningful life. People who have a calling, whether it is spiritual or vocational in nature, will put that calling above physical, transient aspects of the material world.
As we live our life according to Christ's example, we too must strive to put material possessions in their rightful place. Sometimes it is tempting to take a job that pays well but will not give us adequate time alone with our family. Other times, it is tempting to put aside our dreams and desires and to make the 'safe choice.'
Spiritually, we must be like Christ and follow our 'True North.' It is easy to be tempted by false, internal voices that tell us that making money is more important and pleasing society is of greatest vale. Always we must ask ourselves what is meaningful in life, and look within our souls. We must not fall into the temptation to choose the kingdom that only promises us worldly power but no spiritual sustenance, nor must we fall into despair if our dreams are not immediately realized. We must not make a show of being tended to by angels, throwing ourselves off a cliff in hopes of being rescued -- instead we must rescue ourselves by making correct choices.
Spiritual application to life
From a Christian perspective, in my life, I have often held the example of Christ's decision in my heart, when I have wrestled with issues of great significance to me. I remind myself that I have free will to choose to do right and to do wrong, and I strive to do the former, not the latter, remembering Christ's own decision in the wilderness. I also remind myself that power is of little value in the grand scheme of things. God always has the ultimate power, more so than any human authorities, and any power we accumulate on earth is meaningless, in the face of the power we will inherit in God's kingdom.
Spiritually, when I make decisions, I strive to put my true desires first, and my need for a spiritual life above my need for a materially fulfilling existence. I always try to take time out of my life to read, to do art, and to nourish myself from within. I recall an elderly relative of mine who always painted until the end of her days, and always took time to read the Bible every night, regardless of what was going on in her life. This was the bread that fed her, the spiritual bread that truly nourishes. When we are spiritually fed it is easy to put aside our physical hungers and physical distress, like Christ did.
When I am absorbed in a task I love, or am in church, I do not focus on material concerns, even though they may be trying. This is why fasting and other forms of exertion -- even physical exercise -- can be so useful, in helping us forget the body, and focus on what is most important to us, namely our eternal souls, our reward in heaven, and the contribution we will make to the world that will live on long after our physical bodies have died.
In my own life, I have experienced many temptations in the wilderness to forget about what is important to me. One of my first jobs was in a very high-pressured work environment. Almost every moment of the day was spent on the phones, directing calls. It was my responsibility to act as a gatekeeper for the doctors on staff, and to keep them from bothering the doctors. All day, I would find myself arguing with unsatisfied 'customers.' I had to continually make up excuses as to why patients could not see their physicians or why a referral was delayed.
The job literally tore me apart inside every day, because I felt I was always covering up for an unfair system, and an unfair healthcare bureaucracy. I told myself over and over again that I had to stay in the job because I needed the money. I reminded myself how low I would feel without a job. Yet my sense of esteem had plummeted.
Eventually, I realized that certain things are more important than material betterment. I had to trust God to take care of me, and trust my own instincts to strive for a better life. If I did not make a move and ignore the material needs to feed myself on bread, I could see myself in the same miserable job for the rest of my life. Eventually, I did make the needed move, and found work that I loved, to which I was better suited temperamentally.
I still remember the jealous looks of my coworkers on the last day of my employment as I left that job. I pray that someday all of them will find a more fruitful source of work, and find a way to survive that does not merely give them a paycheck, but is also a source of emotional and spiritual satisfaction. Without time for hobbies and time for ourselves, our lives are indeed empty -- empty of spiritual sustenance.
This passage details how a man who owned vineyards contracted different sets of workers -- some at the beginning of the day, some mid-day, and others at the end of the day. With every set of workers, he agreed to pay them the same sum. At the end of the day, all were paid a denarius. The longest, hardest working workers bridled at this, and complained that they received the same amount of money as people who had worked only an hour.
The vineyard owner, a clear metaphorical representation of Christ, told the angry workers who had toiled longer that they were being paid what they were supposed to have been paid -- no more and no less. They were…