The Third Temptation

You stand above the world on holy heights

If the first two temptations in the wilderness were in some sense ‘obvious’; the temptation to mere physical satisfaction of appetite, and the temptation to worldly success and power, then the third temptation is subtle and dark, all the darker for pretending to a kind of light, or enlightenment. The third temptation takes place on the ‘pinnacle of the Temple’ on the height of religious experience and achievement. What could be wrong with that? But the best things, turned bad, are the worst things of all. A ‘religious’  or  ‘spiritual’ life can be riddled with pride and a sense of distinction, judging or looking down on others , despising God’s good creation! Such a twisted religion does more damage in the world then any amount simple indulgence or gratification by sensual people. Thanks be to God that in resisting this temptation to spiritual loftiness and display, Jesus shows his solidarity once and for all with all of us, trusting himself to our flesh and blood so that we can trust our flesh and blood to him. He does not look down on us but looks up with the humble eyes of the child of Bethlehem.

This sonnet is part of my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press and available directly from them and also from Amazon and Blackwells Bookshops

The picture above is by Gustave Dore and the one below by Margot Krebs Neale. as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

On the Pinnacle

‘Temples and spires are good for looking down from;

You stand above the world on holy heights,

Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,

Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.

Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection

And feel your kinship with the lonely star,

Above the shadow and the pale reflection

Here you can know for certain who you are.

The world is stalled below, but you could move it

If they could know you as you are up here

Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it

Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’

‘I was not sent to look down from above

It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’

I was not sent to look down from above



Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

7 responses to “The Third Temptation

  1. To a Roaming Catholic like myself at this time of papal replacement, this seems so pertinent. Thank you!

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks. I hadn’t thought about that particular context but as soon as you mention it I can see exactly what you mean. Resisting the temptations is all about the gift of discernment I pray for that discernment for the cardinals!

  2. Thank you for this. My Lenten journey has been about releasing the need and desire to control, manage and escape my pain and aloneness. I feel ravaged and raw, and find myself begging Jesus to be what I need, in a way that I can experience Him from within my woundedness. I can refuse to hide, refuse to keep busy, refuse to cling to relationships, but I need Jesus to be what my heart and soul need, even as I turn my back on the lesser things that I have been clinging to. He is being so faithful and intimate, and it is because when tempted, He refused to stand above me, but chose to live within me and my messiness. I am so grateful.

  3. Indeed, the third temptation you mention is at the heart of my faith (Hinduism). In a word Ego. we are told that all evil and transgressions arise from it and the moment you have overcome it you would be a saint. We are told that on the spiritual plane there is no Ego, merely here on the physical and once one can overcome it one begins to approximate to the spiritual. Your blog was interesting and revealing.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks. I think the call to be set free from the false demands of the ego is a common thread in all the great religions

  4. Bill Peters

    May I of you humbly inquire,
    What kind of person mounts a spire?
    The view from which might first seem grand;
    Foundation less than grains of sand.
    When I admire the lofty height
    From solid ground far down below,
    And see the cross – oh what a sight!
    An hounoured place no one should know.

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