LECTIONARY PASSAGE: Matthew 4: 1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
|The Judean Wilderness, Israel
Well, here we are back at the temptation story. I suppose that means it’s the first Sunday in Lent. It doesn’t even matter what lectionary year you’re in. All three synoptic Gospels have it in some form. So it just seems to find us each and every year on this Sunday. It is the day that never budges on our spiritual itinerary, as if it is a place through which we have to pass to get to anywhere else. So, is the point that you have to travail the wilderness or that you have to survive the temptation? I think maybe it’s both those things, but the main thing is that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, now is the time to get our egos under control. This Lenten journey is not for the faint of heart. It is serious business. We have to get our own selves out of the way before we can continue. Maybe that’s why we read this story every single year on the first Sunday in Lent. It’s our annual spring cleaning of all that stuff that is piled up in our way so that the path to Jerusalem will be visible.
Many people struggle a bit with this story. After all, he was Jesus–as in the Christ–as in God Incarnate–as in the Savior of the World. Shouldn’t he have been above all that? But, remember, Jesus was human, fully human. And even the ones in our midst who do humanness the best have things that get in the way of our relationship with God from time time. If Jesus had been “above it all”, so to speak, what, really would have been the point at all? Jesus was not a superhero. Jesus was showing us the way to God. And along the way, Jesus was enough of a realist and loved us enough to be honest about what all of us would encounter on this journey. Jesus’ style was not really to show us all the stuff that we were messing up; rather, he showed us how to name and own what comes along so that we would have the strength and the grace and the faith not to walk away but to walk through it, to leave it behind as we continue on. I think that’s a whole lot better than a superhero that just flies above the fray and scoops us out of harm’s way at the last minute.
Henri Nouwen says that the three temptations depicted are what we all encounter–the desire to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Who doesn’t want to be relevant, to be liked, to be affirmed, to realize that you have made an impact? The ironic thing is that most of us spiritual ones live our whole lives like that. We are told that we are supposed to bear fruit. And yet how many of us forget who planted it in the first place? And, at least once in a while, it would feel good to be spectacular. And the third? Well, good grief, our whole society is about power. If we are not one of the powerful, then we are one of the powerless, right? In a society with a caste system such as ours (yes, I said caste system), there has to be SOMEBODY on the top! But, here’s the crux…to those who are relevant, spectacular, and powerful, Jerusalem looks like a failure, a dark blotch on an otherwise pristine story. But to those who have left their egos at this first week, Jerusalem looks like life.
So get your egos in check and prepare for the journey!
Grace and Peace,