A prisoner of war had been held for many years in a remote area with little outside support. Those who worked at the prison were accustomed to a life of relative ease and comfort, for the prisoners were given many of the manual duties and menial tasks.
Several prisoners were given trusted positions of power based on their performance and over time also enjoyed lives of relative ease in comparison to their peers. It was considered unwise to cross one of these prisoners, for they could ensure a prisoner was malnourished, beaten, or worse.
One prisoner was given the opportunity to cook a meal with some of these elite prisoners who had risen to power. He had been trained by his mother to be a resourceful cook, for his family was quite poor. He knew some creative ways to spice and mask the food and make it palatable or at least tolerable.
The elite prisoners realized that the man had a valuable skill, and began to use him as a cook more and more. Being a cook meant food was consistent, and that he had items to bargain with. The man hoped it was possible to acquire a book to read, and told several prisoners about his wish. A book was a luxury he had often dreamed of. He had heard rumors that there were a few books held in the main camp, and he longed to hold a book in his hands and disappear from his current reality. He dreamed of visiting a library and owning many books if he was ever released.
Another motivation to keep going was the belief that he might be an uncle. He made speeches to his imaginary nephew about injustice, and how not every fight was his to fight. He valued honor above action because action could be circumstantial. If given the chance, he would explain to his nephew that patience was more valuable than vengeance – and without as steep a price. Having been a hot tempered youth, this was quite a change for him and it made him smile to think of his family’s surprise at the new outlook.
As he cooked, the prisoner noticed some unusual activity one morning. The elite prisoner with the most power seemed particularly secretive and jumpy. Without intending to, the prisoner discovered this man had planned a way to escape that involved murdering all the guards by poisoning their meal that evening. If the plan failed, he would likely be the suspect, he realized. His mind raced over ways to avoid blame and not be involved. He made plans to become visibly ill and unable to cook that night.
A prisoner walked by and handed him a bundle wrapped in rags, smiling broadly. Last night’s dinner had been the best meal he had in years he commented. It was a real book, and not even a paperback. He could spend the evening ‘sick’ in his bunk; reading and completely blameless, he realized. His stomach churned as he thought of how he might explain this to his imaginary nephew. The fight was not justified, and although he tried to consider it survival to escape blame, he knew it was wrong. The guards who held him without cause for so many years were still humans.
Another prisoner walked by and said “Great dinner!” smiling at him. He had made an exceptional dinner last night, and he knew it. He should have enjoyed the attention as he walked by his peers and continued to hear praise. The more they spoke, the more he felt like a coward. His honor was too high of a price to pay. Turning around, he walked directly to the guard station and asked to speak to the man in charge, knowing he would have no friends in the prison tomorrow.
—————Thoughts that motivated this story—————
In this story I reflected on a moment when popularity or attention is at a peak.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
In Matthew 4:1-2 we read about Jesus meeting hardship head-on. John the Baptist lived and preached in the wilderness, but he didn’t fast and wasn’t there to be tempted. In fact, by being alone John was isolated from many temptations. In contrast, Jesus went to the wilderness first to be baptized, and then to be tempted and to fast. The idea of living isolated is not ideal to me, but it beats fasting and facing the most the devil could dish out.
It struck me that the time Jesus might have been most accepted by the people would have perhaps been after his baptism. Certainly others saw and heard the voice of God speak clearly that this was no ordinary man and had to wonder or even follow to see where He would go. Instead, the excitement and expectation had to die down when Jesus disappeared. If this was about popularity, this would have been ‘the moment’ to appear and take charge, and yet the promised king of Israel leaves. He went away at this opportune time when he could have been effectively proclaiming the good news. The reason he leaves? To face temptation.
Certainly we must conclude this was God’s plan, for we are told the Spirit led Jesus there. I’m so glad we are instructed to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ or we might think God cruelly expects this of us. However, even though we pray for this, there will be times where temptation is right at our door as well. Focusing only on the good blessings from God, we like to avoid the idea that God allows hardship, temptation, and even suffering to occur. It seems contrary to the idea of a ‘loving God’ to say this, but is it? If God was limited to only love as the primary characteristic, God would not love us! I say this because we are imperfect, and thus unworthy of love. It is only mercy that makes hardship to enable growth possible, and the imperfect loved.