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Through Self's Veneer: Poetry by Robert J. Nolan (drawing of two heads in profile facing each other)


The Third Temptation

An Interpretive Essay in Verse

For Luke, the third temptation—and most untoward—
Occurs when Satan urges Christ to cast
Himself from the temple, it being said, “The Lord
Has charged his angels to protect him lest
He even dash his foot upon a stone.”
How great, in other words, was the urge to test
The Lord, demand a sign, so it be known,
Absolutely, that what he,
A nameless Nazarene, saw as his destiny,
Was indeed the Word of God. In fact,
Satan’s third temptation dares
The Lord to intervene in men’s affairs,
Demands that He Himself should act
To wrest from chaos peace on earth. The chord
Struck in that demand is that it blames the Lord
For mankind’s wretched state. Worse, the certainty
He’ll not intrude proves He’s non-existent,
Or at least that He’s indifferent.
Such a man, believing that, forgets
The Lord comes at His, and not at our will,
And whatever form He lets
His spirit take is just as unpredictable:
“Still small voice” or Socratic daimonion;
Olympian fire, or a burning bush;
An Unseen Measure, or Anointed One—
Such images that men would love to push
Aside as not befitting “modern” minds.
Convinced, therefore, that God won’t come, he finds
Himself enraged at life, and thereupon
He tries to change existence on his own.
Yet here’s where choosing not to leap can be
As free an act as one could wish. It frames
The features of a true humanity,
A genuine openness to life, and aims
Toward understanding that, though answers be
On hand, no one answer will suffice
To bring a heavenly—or earthly—paradise.
This is the balance the modern Christs have lost.
These Archimedean Egotists, who’ve moved
The world in contradictory ways, have crossed
The line of human limitations, and removed
The Lord from men’s affairs by trying to draw
Apocalypse—their personal revelation—
Into time, taking as eternal law
Whatever ‘rational’ fabrication,
Whatever vacuous ideology,
They believe can harness and corral
A wild, recalcitrant reality.
To base their actions, though, on such banal
Illusions, such absurd, fantastic dreams,
Creates a veritable nightmare
For everybody else. It seems
That they’re completely unaware
Of the Word from Christ that moves beyond despair
(Or worse, that they’ve refused to hear it):
“Father, into thy hands I give my spirit.”
That temple’s top with Christ in perfect poise
Between eternity and time, destroys
Those modern Archimedean points, and shows
A stillness of one’s soul, seated in the pith
Of our being, and standing up to all the blows
The outer world can give. It’s the perfect myth
Of one’s refusal to convert reality
By sending to eternity anyone who fails to see
Your truth. It’s the image of a genuine
Humility, of one with discipline
Enough to understand that history
Can never find finality
In a single man in a single era,
Although it can be drawn ever nearer
To fruition,
Through one who has the will to stand still,
And listen, then respond to that petition
From Eternity, by working to fulfill
Its meaning in the world, though it portend
The horror of an ignominious end.

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  © Robert J. Nolan, 2010