This Sunday's passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome seems to be an example of Year C's theological focus on those who are living in a state of alienation from Jesus Christ and the church. Yet when I think about rebuilding the bridges of love, trust, and belonging in contemporary Christian community, Paul isn't the first person who comes to mind.
Painted by Michele Tosini (called Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, 1503–1577) in 1565 at the height of his career in Florence, this work combines the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21) with the three temptations of Christ (Luke 4:1–9). It should be read in a counterclockwise direction. The temptation to turn stones into bread, on the right, shows a hunched-over devil in discussion with an attentive Christ. “Command these stones be made bread,” the tempter says to Christ. In the second temptation, directly above the baptism, the devil leads Christ up the mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. Christ raises his right hand as if prepared to respond, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Tosini draws a contrast between Christ’s humility in the center of the painting toward John and his defiance of the devil. Christ and the devil stand on top of the dome of the Jerusalem Temple in the third temptation. The devil is suggesting that Christ throw himself down and be protected by the angels. Christ responds by raising his right hand in refusal.
As Luke tells the story, even though Jesus doesn’t turn stones to bread, he feeds those who hunger. And even though he says no when Satan offers him political power, a vision of God’s all-encompassing reign of shalom is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.