March 5, 2017
Jesus was tempted. Just as every human being who ever lived is tempted by something, so was he. This may be obvious, but it is important to name it since it informs us that Jesus experienced life much as we do – its joys, its sorrows, it ups and downs, and yes, its temptations. He understood what it is to be human.
He had been fasting for forty days and nights and told he must be hungry. Get some bread to satisfy yourself. What could be wrong with that? Rule over the kingdoms of the world – heck, you’re a good guy. You’d probably do a good job of it. Jump off the temple – didn’t God promise to protect you? What would any of that hurt? In the exchange, the literary device of the character of the devil then lays out the big lie by saying: “If you are the Son of God,” do this! Do you see what is going on here? The idea is to plant the thought in Jesus’ mind that he needs to prove his identity through these parlor tricks after he had just been told at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son.”
Make no mistake. Jesus is being tempted here to the depth of his being. He is being tempted to forget who he is, to whom he belongs, and to live out his mission in a manner better suited to himself than to God. These are OUR bottom line temptations as well – to believe the lie the world tries to tell us that we are not infinitely loved and of infinite worth to God. Let me try and tell you what I mean.
In our day the whole idea of temptation has been trivialized. It can become nothing much more than giving up chocolate for Lent, then seeing it somewhere and trying to resist it. If we then eat it, that’s when we have crossed the line into sin. Is that really what Jesus died for? When we give in to Milky Ways, or better, Godiva dark chocolate? Of course not.
The root of this trivialization comes from an approach to Christian life that reduces it to helping people obey ethical principles, have a good set of values, and live by them. Now surely, living an ethical and principled life is a good thing. But do you see what this approach can do? Such a perspective is not inherently Christian. That’s why so many see no need to be a part of a faith community or have a spiritual life. If it is only about making ethical decisions and being a moral person, I can do that on my own and taking a nice walk in the woods. One does not have to be a person of faith in order to be good, right? So any concept of sin, that is, our brokenness before God, gets trivialized too. It makes the definition of sin merely a wrong act, a fault or error in judgment. Temptation then becomes nothing more than an enticement to make an error in judgment that violates an ethical principle.
Matthew, and our Christian faith, goes much deeper than this. Temptation in the Bible, including the Genesis story today, confronts us with the distortion of the purpose of our entire humanity. The battle is waged in the wilderness of our own heart and soul. According to Genesis and Matthew, the bottom line temptation is to forget who you are. “If you are the Son of God,” is spoken to Jesus. “You will not die,” says the serpent to the woman. For us, it is to forget that we are a person of Jesus the Christ, claimed by God in our baptism and proclaimed a child of God, of infinite love and worth! Sin then, is not merely a bad act or a mistake in judgment. Much more seriously, it comes from a distortion of our humanity as God intends it to be and out of which our mistreatment of one another and the creation arises.
And what does Jesus do in response? Grounded in his relationship with God, knowing he is beloved, he responds to the temptations with, “One does not live by bread alone…worship the Lord your God and serve only him…do not put the Lord your God to the test.” He was tempted to forget his relationship to God that would have a negative, even crippling effect on all his relationships with God’s people and the creation itself. Jesus’ response is to do what – Worship! Do you get this? His response tells us that the opposite of sin, its antidote if you will, is to worship God!
This account of Jesus in the wilderness tells us that Christianity is not first about living ethically and making good moral decisions. The Christian faith is first and foremost about a living relationship with Jesus. Out of that relationship, we love radically in the same manner that we have been loved by him. The key to resisting temptation is to draw closer to Jesus.
The discipline of Lent then is to get clear one more time about our center, our identity in Christ. When temptation comes, and it will, we have an opportunity through a life of prayer, worship and service to remain clear about who we are in Christ and to live out of that truth. Then, when we do fail, and we will, we know we are forgiven and still loved as we find our center once again. Jesus is always welcoming us home, for his vision of the Kingdom is not when everyone gets it all right. His vision is when everyone loves God and one another just as we are loved.
So you and I go through Lent and indeed all of life knowing the end of the story – Jesus is Risen! Davidetta, as you receive the laying on of hands today – you stand with the apostles in the symbol of the bishop, as a resurrection person called to worship God above and before anything else. Then, with all of us, you are called to a life lived from a profoundly grateful heart for Christ’s giving of his life showing forth the love that embraces you and us always. Only there will we find that we are truly set free to be who God calls us to be and remember who we truly are – Christ’s own people.