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.
Malcolm Guite reads today’s poem
Religion is a weapon in the hands of the self-righteous. It’s too easy to place this reality on man’s sinful nature alone because even sinless Jesus was tempted by it. On the pinnacle of the temple, high above the people below, Satan simply suggested that Jesus exercise His rights.
In his book The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite writes:
The third temptation takes place on the ‘pinnacle of the temple’, representing 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 twisted religion does more damage in the world then any amount of simple indulgence or gratification by sensual people.
Worshiping the god of self is idolatry most sinister, for it always calls for the sacrifice of the image of God in His children.
How does spiritual pride infest spiritual people?
The devil took him to Jerusalem and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy
Malcolm Guite and The Word in the Wilderness
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.
Jesus Carried up to a Pinnacle of the Temple
|between 1886 and 1894|
|opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper|
|22.2 × 15.9 cm (8.7 × 6.3 in)|