The Pas Lent 1
5 March 2017
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32 pg 742
Heavenly Father, your Son battled with the powers of darkness and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer, so that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I was looking at the gospel, for today, and I find curious, today, that Jesus is in the wilderness, in the first place.
Before today’s gospel Matthew tells us: “16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 3:16-4:1)
And, this, is what piques my curiosity, what catches my attention. The contrast of a man without sin being baptized with a baptism of repentance. The association of the Son of God going into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, to be tempted by sin, to be exposed to the kinds of temptations and sins that have the ability to destroy our relationship with God, that have the ability to keep us in bondage to the tempter.
So, today’s gospel tells us that Jesus is baptized, and then “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 4:1)
Looking at it from a logical perspective, its doesn’t make much sense. At the same time, when we try to analyze our lives of faith logically, God will turn our logic on its ear and introduce God’s own agenda, every time, to help us to open our hearts to God’s love, God’s impossible love for our flawed and sin filled existence.
God proclaims that he’s proud and that he loves Jesus, and the next thing that happens is that Jesus is sent into the wilderness to experience temptation and the opportunity to sin. So naturally, it begs the question: Why?
Is it for the devil, the tempter? An introduction, a meeting between the two sides of the spiritual spectrum: good and evil?
Is it for Jesus to know the kinds of temptations that we experience every day: our overbearing feelings and responses of helplessness, hunger, thirst, the desire to test God, or even the desire for power and position?
Perhaps it’s for you and me, so that we know, in the worst experiences and temptations of our lives, that even Jesus was tempted by the one who tempts each one of us every day. Perhaps it’s so that we know that he resisted the worst that the devil could offer in his human frailty and weakness?
Or perhaps, its all the above.
Today’s gospel tells us that “2 After fasting forty days and forty nights …3 The tempter came to him” (Matt 4:2a, 3a)
When Jesus is in the physically weakened state of having been in the wilderness forty days and forty nights without food, shelter, water, dependant upon the resources he finds around him is when the gospel tells us that he is approached by the devil, by the tempter.
Jesus is the son of God, he’s an unknown entity to the devil. The devil, the tempter knows God, but to imagine God in human form, God in the form of Jesus, that would be something unimaginable to the devil.
Yet, here he is, in the wilderness, in the desert, before the tempter. And “the tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God…” (Mt 4:3a)
“If you are the Son of God.” He’s not sure. At the same time, “if” is the most interesting word language has constructed.
It’s the word we play with when we hypothesize an outcome such as ‘If I win the lottery,’ ‘if I marry a millionaire,’ ‘if peace would reign in the world,’ ‘if there was harmony, and jobs, and food for all.’
‘If’ is a great word. But it can also be used for the negative. ‘If there is war,’ ‘if there is famine,’ ‘if there is a global catastrophic event.’
Authors and entertainers play on the word if when they compose their works, and I have to admit, I’ve begun to realize the power behind what’s called dystopic stories and dramas. In this category we find such tales as Orwell’s 1984, and The Hunger Games trilogy.
And they’re all built around the word ‘if’.
A dystopia is a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. What we see, here, in the wilderness can be seen to be a dystopic story.
In a dystopic story, the environment is grim, the hero is up against odds that are so great they appear to be insurmountable, and they have been working on that theory for quite some time, to the point where they feel that they are insurmountable, and those they’ve worked hard to oppress feel that the situation will never change.
Sound familiar? This is what draws authors to this genre of writing because so much can be drawn upon from our own reality, from our own world, from our own circumstances.
Even with the hope of salvation we find our selves drawn to the dystopic in the world, to the dark, to the sordid, to the hopelessness in the world around us.
But there is hope. There is a hero, there is one who can turn the tables and allow the world to change around them.
To allow the light to enter into our lives, into our hearts, and all we have to do is follow where the leader goes, follow what the hero has to teach us of reaching out to those who are still trapped in their own dystopic stories and haven’t yet seen the light, the hope, the way out of their wilderness experiences, their own times of wilderness deprivation and temptation.
Our hero, in this tale, in our gospel, today, is Jesus. He’s is up against unbeatable odds, he’s in the Tempters realm, and he’s experiencing what its like to face the temptations that we all face. Lack of food, lack of confidence in God’s desire to look out for us, and as always the temptation to take on power and position that isn’t earned.
He’s experiencing life as we experience it. Where we are tempted every day of our lives, tempted to not treat others as we wish to be treated. Tempted to take short cuts where none are truly needed, tempted to be God in God’s place, this is what Jesus is experiencing, in the wilderness, over the forty days and nights and in his encounters with the tempter.
But for each encounter, Jesus has a reply, a reply based on faith, based on trust in God, based on knowing that the temper is only God’s creation, it isn’t God in God’s place, although it desperately wants to be.
In the first temptation, “the tempter came to him and said, ‘if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’” Jesus answered, ‘it is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”(Mt 4:3-4)
Something we often forget: that we need God’s word as much as we need the bread, the food that fills our stomachs. We need to be whole, and that wholeness comes when we fill not just stomachs, but our minds and spirits and souls as well.
But it doesn’t end there, he’s brought his ‘A-game’ to this situation. “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ [(again, that ‘if’ word)] ‘throw yourself down. For it is written ‘He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’’” (Mt 4:5-7)
So, we learn two things from this interchange. First, the tempter knows scripture and knows it well, and second, we all want to challenge God, we all want to test God. We do this in a thousand little ways, and sometimes, not so little. Just as Jesus is tempted to step off the pinnacle of the temple, so we are tempted to shave off others advantages, to take those advantages for ourselves,
But Jesus reminds us that its not the end results that matter, but rather respecting and honouring that God is ultimately in control, and all we can control is ourselves, and our decisions in all matters.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the 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.’’” (Mt 4 8-10)
All this I will give to you – bold claims for a creature of God. All of this is God’s, as are we.
I equated this to a dystopic tale. A tale that begins in misery and woe, but ends with the hero dying for the salvation of the rest of humanity.
Today we see the opening salvos. Our hero, Jesus, is just facing the enemy for the first time, formally. At the same time, our enemy is sizing up the competition. He tries to derail with doubt, the use of the word ‘if’. He tries to challenge God through each one of us, he tries to keep us off base, and to give us our hearts desire.
But truly what our hearts desire is God’s participation in our lives, in our hearts, in our souls, see God using our strength. We see this when we recite the summary of the law, because when God is loved by us, we have the strength to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Jesus has been driven into the wilderness to experience our lives of want and deprivation. He has faces the enemy for the first time, and he has wins the opening salvo.
From here, we go on, we continue to open our lives and our hearts to the love of God, not just for each of us, but for the rest of the world that isn’t yet aware that we are here, looking toward the salvation that only Jesus can offer, when he dies on the cross, and rises from the grave.
We are tempted, every day. But that temptation is only a burden when we forget that Jesus stands at our side, when we forget that the tempter isn’t as sure of himself as he’d like us to believe, especially if he resorts to the word ‘if’ to get our attention.
We are able to overcome the power of the tempter when we remember and acknowledge that we are loved and to love as we are loved.