Lent I, 2010
It’s the first Sunday of Lent, so you knew it was coming—the story of Jesus’ temptation in the Wilderness.
It’s such a familiar story that it almost speaks for itself.
However, not unsurprisingly, I have a few things to say about it….
First of all—it is interesting to note that it is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the Wilderness for his temptation. The Spirit leads him there. One of the gospels that didn’t make it into our New Testament says it more vividly: “The Spirit of God took Jesus by the hair of his head and carried him to the wilderness….”
Pretty brutal. So it might just be that it is the Spirit of God that takes us into Wilderness times. Though we pray, “lead us not into temptation”, perhaps the Spirit does.
NOT to ‘test us’, I don’t think. I’ve never bought into the theory that God sets up ‘tests’ and ‘trials’ to see what we’re made of. That just doesn’t make sense. But perhaps the Wilderness Times are times we should recognize that we are not alone—that God is with us and will ‘deliver us from evil’ if we choose to be delivered.
The temptations themselves deserve a little pondering—the nature of them is interesting and perhaps informative.
First, since Jesus has not eaten for 40 days, Luke tells us ‘he was famished’. That might be understatement! So, the initial temptation is to satisfy his basic human needs by turning rocks into bread.
Surely we can all understand that. Each of us—all of us—must find ways to satisfy our needs. But Jesus refuses to defy the laws of nature merely to eat. “There is more than bread to living,” he tells the Enemy. I’m not sure, but there is a message there for us. We seem to be transforming and destroying the planet so we can have ‘what we want’ whenever we ‘want’ it. The laws of nature don’t seem able to convince us not to satisfy our longings far beyond what are basic needs.
Then Satan offers him the Kingdoms of all the world if Jesus will only worship him. Satan is appealing to human ‘ambition’. And since Jesus came, after all, to ‘save the world’, wouldn’t just simply ‘taking over’ do the trick?
“Ambition” may be the temptation that is most seductive to people in our culture. Aren’t we all told we can ‘succeed’ if we only work hard enough or try hard enough or study hard enough? Aren’t we told that from the cradle?
And who among us could be blamed if we took a ‘shortcut’ here or there? Found an easier way? Or were clever enough to succeed without all the hard work? Would that be such a problem? Who could that hurt?
Jesus chose the higher path. He rejected ‘ambition’ and chose faithfulness and commitment instead. He really ‘took the road less traveled’ as I look around at how people ‘get ahead’ and succumb to the temptation of their ambitions.
The final “tempering” is a challenge to Jesus’ pride and ‘hubris’.
(I used the word ‘tempering’ instead of ‘temptation’ because that is what this story; it seems to me, is really about. Metal is made stronger by heating it and cooling it rapidly over and again—we “temper” metal to make it strong. What if the ‘temptations’, which come from the same root word, are not ‘tests’ at all, but experienced, accompanied by the Spirit, to make us stronger by teaching us our weaknesses?)
That’s why the temptation to jump from the top of the Temple is so terribly seductive—it challenges Jesus…and us…to DENY OUR WEAKNESSES and our vulnerabilities.
“Hubris”—the kind of ‘pride’ that blinds people to their own frailties—is one of the greatest ‘temptations’ of our time.
How often have we watched public figures or celebrities or powerful people or sports heroes go on TV and give ‘explanations’ of their weaknesses and brokenness without giving an “apology” at all?
I know I find myself making excuses and explaining how I ‘really didn’t’ do or say or mean what I most definitely did or said or meant. If you’re anything like me, you might just be able to think of some times you’ve been in that position as well.
The old saying is “Pride comes before a Fall”.
In the case of ‘hubris’, “Pride comes along to explain away a Fall….”
So, it is a good thing that year after year on the first Sunday of Lent we must hear of Jesus’ ‘temptations’. Lent gives us a chance to reflect upon and ponder our frailties, our brokenness, our weakness, our failures…and to take responsibility for them and ‘fess up to God and ourselves and those we have pained.
That’s a good thing—to be reminded clearly, in a way we can’t avoid—that we are weak and broken and fragile creatures…and that, in fact, it is when we acknowledge that—as painful as it is—we can know God loves us anyway and always and without limit…just the way we truly are….
That’s a good way to begin Lent, I believe….