Such an insignificant little word, it would seem. But there’s nothing trivial about “if”, really. It’s full of potential. Despite being only two letters in length, it’s actually quite powerful. And the devil knows how to use it.

In this Sunday’s gospel (Mt 4:1-11) Jesus is at a turning point in his life and, on the verge of launching his public ministry, he goes off alone to think things through. Never one to miss an opportunity, the devil shows up and starts to mess with him. He pulls the word if out of his back pocket and, with it, tries to divert Jesus’ attention away from his discernment… and if things go well, maybe even his ministry.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen suggests that the devil is driving Jesus to the temptations to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful. These three temptations all sit atop three fundamental lies, and the lies are so powerful that the devil tries using them to draw Jesus away from his calling and away from his trust in the Father: you are what you do, you are what others think of you, and you are what you have. Each shot fired lands a direct hit on the ego.

But it’s more than ego at play here. On the surface, it feels like a playground taunt. “Oh yeah? You’re the Son of God? Prove it.” But let’s be honest, the devil isn’t looking for proof. He doesn’t need it. He knows exactly who Jesus is. So, what is he doing here? He’s using the word if to its full potential and to his full advantage. He is attempting to draw Jesus away from his mission by sowing doubt and insecurity.

If you’re the Son of God, then you don’t really need God to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. You can do it all on your own. So why are you relying on God in the first place?

Even if you are the Son of God, if you want to be popular and climb the ladder, you’re not going to get it by doing what you’re planning on doing. In fact, you’ll probably wind up with the exact opposite.

Oooooh, but what if you’re not the Son of God? What if you try to prove that God’s got your back, and it fails? What if you make a laughingstock out of yourself? Or worse, get killed trying to do it? 

And what if you don’t do it, hmmm? Does that mean you don’t believe you’re the Son of God? Or do you just not believe that God will take care of things?

This isn’t just about getting Jesus to do something. This is about getting him to think something. Doubt your identity, or doubt your mission. Either way… gotcha.

We’re not immune to this. Whenever we reach a turning point in life, be it something like a new job, the decision to marry, or the discernment of a vocation, the word if has a nasty habit of harbouring doubt and insecurity. When we reach the moment of decision, the same sort of questions plague us.  What if I’m not cut out for this? What if I fail? If this is what God wants me to do, why am I so apprehensive? What if people think I’m a fraud? What if they don’t like me?  What if this job doesn’t pay me enough to live the life I’ve envisioned? If this doesn’t work out, then what?

It’s easy to let the ifs get in the way. When Jesus was confronted with temptations that challenged his identity, his resolve, his mission, and his faith, he stood his ground by affirming his trust in God. We are called to do the same.  When we are faced with ifs that distract us from our calling, turning to God enables us to acknowledge and live our identity and mission in a way that does not rely on reputation, power, or possessions.

If we, like Jesus, believe that we God’s beloved…
If we trust the voice of God…
If we trust who God says we are…
If we trust who God says he is for us…
Then the rest of the ifs are rendered powerless.

By Darcie Lich
Vocation Team – Oblate Associate
(306) 220-0527