First Sunday in Lent: March 10, 2019
Jesus would have known of the public ritual set forth in Deuteronomy today, whereby the people recall God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the wilderness. He would have done this himself some thirty times over his life to this point. Beyond that he would have heard it read and likely read it himself hundreds of times.
Jesus was formed by this story from his time as a child through the synagogue lectionary as well as at home. It would give him his grounding as he faces his own time in the Judean wilderness. In Luke’s account we note at least two things. First, Jesus was tempted. This may be obvious, but it is important since it informs us that Jesus experienced temptation in every way we do and links his humanity to ours. As Hebrews tells us: “We do not have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every way has been tempted as we are, yet did not sin.”
Secondly, note that the temptations are not trivial. They are related to the very core of Jesus’ calling and identity. Jesus is tempted here to modify his ministry to serve purposes other than what brings life, freedom and hope.
If you are hungry – get some bread. What could that hurt? Isn’t eating a good thing? Rule over the kingdoms of the world – gosh, you’re a good guy. You’d probably do a great job of it. Jump off the temple roof – didn’t God promise to protect you? Do you trust God or not? In the exchange the character of the devil says, “If you are the Son of God,” do this! Do you see what is going on here? The clever plot seeks 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 Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
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 and ministry in a manner better suited to what the world tends to value rather than God’s desire for us. The enemy, the liar and deceiver, seeks to sow in the human heart the promise of bread and comfort conjoined to greatness, fame, being number one, power and prestige, at the expense of others. The warning here is to measure such desires at the cost of one’s soul, for often the battle waged is not an exterior, objectified wilderness, but the wilderness of our own heart.
Our worth is found in who God says we are: beloved, made in his image, worthy of respect, of inherent value for no other reason than that we were born. Anything that tells us that we, or for that matter any other human being, is not of infinite worth to God, loved beyond our wildest imaginings, is a lie. It is true even when Scripture itself is used to devalue, dehumanize or demonize any person of the earth. We learn from Jesus in the wilderness that this is Satan’s ruse. This is where bigotry in all its forms is born. Jesus didn’t fall for it. Nor should we. Lent takes us back to the wilderness once again to give us the opportunity to consider deeply who we are and who we want to be as Christ’s own. It has us ask the question of how we engage our neighbor, whether here in Denmark or halfway around the world.
To engage the wilderness to where the Holy Spirit led Jesus, or even to enter the wilderness of the Israelites, can perhaps challenge us to see that our address right now is just that, wilderness. It is true for each of us individually, for us as a Diocese, and for us on planet earth. In our wilderness we get to confront our deepest fears, reestablish where we find our identity, and embrace what gives us hope. We also get the amazing opportunity to reconnect to all who are in their various wildernesses with us, all who are oppressed, treated wrongly, judged, devalued. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien…,” and there with him we find sibling journeyers, migrants, refugees, all of us together on the way seeking liberation. The wilderness experience can give us our life back in order to be set free for a true home that trusts in God’s who has said through Christ that you and I and all are worth dying for.
One of Jesus’ responses to the lies was to do what? Worship! That means, among other things, to become ever more clear about what truly is of worth, as in “worth-ship.” In worship we give supreme worth to God, and by a beautiful turn of grace find ourselves “made worthy to stand before him.” We come together to hear the sacred story over and over, to remember, to be sustained by one another, have our imaginations stirred, then set free to be who God calls us to be.
The discipline of Lent 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 and worship to remain grounded in who we are in Christ and to live out of that truth alone. Then, when we fail, and we will, we know we are forgiven and still loved as we find our center once again. Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom is not when everyone gets it all right. His vision is when all will worship the One God.
You and I go through Lent and indeed all of life knowing the end of the story – Jesus is Risen! We are resurrection people called to worship God above and before anything else. As Christians our life is to be rooted in thanksgiving that leads us to be profoundly grateful for God’s act in Christ on the cross. Only there will we find that we are truly set free to be who God calls us to be, to see others as God sees them, and remember who we truly are – God’s own people.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.