Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Matthew 4:8-10

***

The mountainside was steep. Jesus was breathing heavy to keep up with Lucifer as they ascended the slope. The air was cooler the higher they climbed, and Jesus welcomed it. 

Lucifer finally broke the silence between them.

“I heard they have a new name for me now,” he said. “One more befitting of the devil.” 

“I’ve heard it,” Jesus said.

“Satan,” Lucifer said. “It’s clear what they mean. Enemy.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Jesus said.

They continued climbing up the mountainside. At times the rocks underneath Jesus’s feet would slip, and it took everything he had to keep his balance.

“How do you know that god is calling you? How do you know this is your time?” Lucifer asked.

“He told me I would know when the time was right, and the time is right now. I can feel it. I can hear his voice.”

“And you’re sure it’s his voice?” Lucifer asked.

“What are you really asking?” 

He stopped, and turned toward Jesus.

“I’ve known you for a long time, but sometimes I don’t think you know yourself. You have something in you, something that never lets you rest. It drives you to a blind obedience. I always hated that, even when you were listening to my orders.”

Lucifer looked Jesus directly in the eyes.

“I think that’s what’s doing the talking,” Lucifer said. He turned and continued hiking, “Not that it doesn’t sound like him, and I’m sure he finds it useful. I suspect that’s what gives god so much confidence in you.” 

“I know what I’m doing,” Jesus said.

They continued to climb.

“Why have you waited so long? How old are you?” Lucifer asked.

“Thirty,” Jesus said.

“I thought rabbis completed their studies years before that,” Lucifer said.

“I am not a rabbi.” 

“But you intend to be something. Something you have not been yet. Why have you not yet been what you intend to be? Has god never called before now?” 

Jesus focused on his breathing. He looked around at the brown rocks around him. Everything was brown, except where it met the blue sky. There was nothing alive up here. He took a deep breath to answer Lucifer.

“There have been times I thought the time had arrived. I thought I saw god’s hand,” Jesus said. 

Lucifer stopped and turned toward Jesus.

“But you were wrong?”

The words were pointed.

Jesus met Lucifer’s gaze. A few tense moments passed between them, and then Lucifer started to climb again. Jesus gritted his teeth and followed. They walked in silence.

Looking ahead of them, Jesus could see they were approaching the peak. He sighed.

“Every year we would all go to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover,” Jesus said. “Those are some of my favorite memories. The city is always so full. No matter what you say – it was so full of life. And I loved that about it. All of us, together. Not just Joseph, but also my mother, brothers, and sisters – all my family. All of our friends. We traveled together.” 

They continued toward the peak. Lucifer did not break stride or indicate he was listening.

“In the temple, there were these teachers. And they were talking about God. They were sincere. They were devout. I loved them. They were the people I hoped to find when I came here. So I sat down with them, and we began talking.”

“How old were you?” Lucifer asked.

“Twelve,” Jesus said, wiping sweat off his brow. “I didn’t realize how much time had passed. In the chaos and crowds, my family left for home. They thought I was with them.”

Jesus took a few moments to catch his breath while Lucifer continued. 

“What happened when they realized you weren’t with them?” Lucifer asked.

Jesus raised his voice, and started after him again.

“They realized it that night, after traveling the whole day. They thought I was with my brothers, and my brothers thought I was with my cousins,” he shook his head, “Everyone thought I was with someone else. My sister told me they were absolutely frantic as they realized I wasn’t with them. She had never seen them like that. Especially my father.”

Jesus regained his stride and caught up with Lucifer.

“So what’d they do?” 

Jesus looked up at the peak. They were almost there.

“They started back, on their own. They left my brothers and sisters with the rest of the caravan so they could stay safe – but they walked back to Jerusalem just the two of them. It took a day to get back, and another day going through all of Jerusalem until they found me. I was still in the temple.”

“Were you in trouble?”

“No,” Jesus said. “I had never seen Joseph cry before, nor since. But he wept that day. Wrapped his arms around both me and my mother as if I’d come back from the dead.” 

“And you thought you saw god’s hand in that?” Lucifer asked, looking over at Jesus.

Jesus nodded.

“When I realized I was alone that first night, I thought that was my time. That it was time to act on my Father’s will. To be in his house and begin my ministry,” Jesus said. He paused, “That was a very hard night. I didn’t think I’d ever see my family again.” 

They reached the top of the mountain. They both were breathing heavily, fighting for their breath. The air was thinner, but cool. The wind rushed over them.

Jesus looked around. The land beneath him stretched out to the horizon. He felt like he could see the whole world. He could see Jerusalem. Bethlehem. Cana.

Lucifer turned to Jesus.

“They loved you. You loved them,” he said. “It wasn’t about god’s timing. It was about yours. And it’s still about your timing. You don’t have to do any of this. It’s your life.”

“I’ve dedicated my life to him,” Jesus said.

Lucifer shook his head, and then looked around at the lands beneath them.

“What does god want with this world?”

“He loves them, and wants to save them from their pain, their suffering, their condemnation. He wants them to be his people. To worship him.” 

“What is worship?” Lucifer asked.

They stood in silence. Jesus looked and saw clouds off to their left, beneath them. He straightened up and stretched his back, catching his breath.

“You know what worship is,” Jesus said. “You’ve stood before his throne, just like you used to kneel like all of us.” 

“That’s not worship – that’s servitude,” Lucifer said. He thought for several moments. “This world, look at all of it. You’ve seen only your part of it. You said how you loved walking the road with your family. There are roads to go everywhere. Lands you’ve never seen. Cities that dwarf Jerusalem.”

He turned toward Jesus.

“And everywhere – life. In so many different forms, but so similar too. This world is rich, and I’m rich because of it,” Lucifer said. “You know what worship is? Being in the presence of something with worth, and loving it of your own free will.”

“God can make it perfect,” Jesus said. “God can make us perfect.”

Lucifer looked back out at the world. Jesus could feel his anger growing.

“I love this world. You love this world. We’re here. We’ve been in it. Your god has not. What can he possibly love about it? He doesn’t love it for what it is, but what he wants to make of it,” Lucifer said, his voice rising.

Jesus stared at him.

“They told me you would oppose me,” Jesus said.

Lucifer turned back to face Jesus and spread his arms.

“Like you said, our true name is a name we earn. They’ve given me the name Satan. Adversary. One who resists,” Lucifer said, taking a step forward. “I have every intention to earn it.”

Lucifer leaned forward, his voice urgent.

“What you said earlier – we can do good. We can do this together. Stand with me. Fight with me again. We can guard what we love in this world.”

“Lucifer – I’m doing this because I love this world.”

“Is that why you’ve waited to save it until after your father died?” Lucifer shouted. “To spare him the truth about Immanuel – god with us – really means?”

“No … I always …” Jesus began, but Lucifer interrupted him.

“Stop. It’s for the best Joseph died. He never had to love you like I did, and then see you become this!”

Jesus bowed his head. He should have listened to Gabriel and the others. Lucifer would never come back. He was gone. Jesus’s heart felt so empty – the way it did when Joseph had passed away.  

A few moments of silence passed.

“Malakh …” Lucifer started, his voice heavy.

Jesus looked up and met Lucifer’s eyes.

“Away from me, Satan. Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only!” 

Jesus watched as his face grew dark, then Lucifer turned away, looking out at the horizon. Jesus looked toward Jerusalem. 

Turning back to Lucifer, he began to speak, but then stopped.

He was alone.

***

Then the devil left him … until an opportune time.

Matthew 4:11, Luke 4:13

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