Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Temptation of Jesus

First Sunday of Lent, February 17, 2013

Gospel Luke 41-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone.” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and:
With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.


In Luke’s gospel today, we find Jesus, freshly baptized, called, named, claimed and set apart for his very unique ministry in the world. Jesus is aware that his life has a unique purpose in the heart and mind of the Almighty One. But that is where his certainty ends - as it does for many of us. There on the edge of the desert, with the waters of baptism still damp in his curly hair, Jesus continues to be fuzzy, unfocused, unsure of what his ministry - what his life - what his call is all about.

Jesus desert sojourn is a profound act of self-love for he is valuing himself - and God - enough to take the time to figure out why he is unique and what it is in his human nature that can stand in the way of God’s purpose for his life. Jesus is pausing to wrestle with the temptation to do things his way, instead of God’s way. And what he discovers, there, in that desolate wasteland of lime stone and sand, is somewhat unsettling.

Jesus knows when he goes into the desert, that for better or for worse, his job is to be the Messiah, to be God’s covenant of love and hope in the flesh. But the Jewish concept of the messiah at that time it that he will have spectacular power, a prince, the leader of a conquering army that will set Israel free from Roman occupation.

So when the devil beguiles him, Jesus must be seriously tempted to respond positively. After all, this crafty fellow is offering him all the techniques for messianic success. Turning stones into bread, so material comfort can be found. Assuming authority and power over all the kingdoms of the world, so that political power can be won. Jumping from the pinnacle of the temple to prove that God’s miraculous power is within him.

But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, knows that the solution to life’s problems cannot be found in quick spectacles or manipulative power. Jesus discovers, by contending with the devil and sending the devil away, that his calling is not to be a superstar, but to be a servant. His ministry is not to wear a crown but to carry a cross.

Chances are that the evil one will not tempt us with such grand enticements. Nevertheless, we face temptations daily. One of the temptations I would like to focus on today is the urge many people feel to fight change, especially change in the church. Look it, none of us likes change and yet change is about the only thing we can count on. Things change, always have, always will. Yet there are many who have a closed fist desperately trying to hang on to the past, to the known, to the familiar. And as long as that fist is closed, what can God put into it?

The temptations that Christ receives help us to see where our own vulnerabilities are. He gives us an example to fortify us in our own spiritual struggles. While we may be hard-pressed to imitate his example of fortitude (forty days without eating is not recommended), his attitude towards whatever would separate him from the Father must find an echo in our own spiritual efforts.

Jesus’ answers to all the temptations revolve around his complete dedication to God. Perhaps we could look at the individual temptations as symptomatic for different areas of struggle that afflict us all.

“Turn these stones to bread.” Material concerns are in the forefront of many people’s daily lives. After all, if someone isn’t putting “bread on the table,” hunger will become a real and present danger. But Jesus’ refusal to turn stones into bread points to authentic human priorities. If we wish to live as Christ did, we must realize that we do not “live on bread alone.” While our faith provides us with no shortcuts for alleviating material needs, it does keep them from taking the first place in our lives. If we feed our souls on the word of God and, above all, the Bread of Life, we will ward off that hunger that is far more dangerous than the physical: spiritual emptiness.

The second temptation is to power. Pride is an enemy that wins many battles over us, but not Christ. His total love for the Father precludes any rebellion against his will in favor of himself. Our desire for control fans the flames of our pride and has us grasping for more and more. But Jesus teaches us that our greatest power lies in our submission to God. It is easy to feel the power of Christ as he dismisses the tempter with disdainful ease. Despite the counterintuitive sound, we are actually strongest when we are humble, and when we give God the place he deserves.

Finally, atop the temple, Jesus refuses to put on a spectacular show of his power. We thrive on celebrity; glossy magazines stoke the vanity of VIPs and exploit the curiosity of the masses. But vanity plays itself out in many other, far more subtle ways. Many of our actions, good ones included, can be contaminated with our desire to be noticed. In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, he issued a stern warning about this, referring to the “hypocrites” who make a big show of their generosity in order to win the applause of their peers. The more we can shift the focus off ourselves and more on Christ, the more we will be able to live the spirit of Lent. God must come first!

What is the source of all this resistance to change and our resistance to God? It is because we are afraid, afraid of the unknown, afraid of that which is even only slightly different from our own experience. Where is the faith in that? Where is the trust in Jesus words at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he said that I must go to the Father but know that I am with you always, even to the end of time?

I suspect that the source of this fear for many people is because we are really not sure what is going to happen to us when we die. We fear that either we will simply cease to exist or that there will be a harsh judging God who will throw us into the pit. For many salvation is not assured, our ultimate fate is in jeopardy. But this is not the gospel. The gospel is that through Jesus we have been saved. Our salvation is assured, it’s in the bank, you know how we say that only three things are certain: life, death and taxes, well add a fourth, salvation. It’s a done deal folks, and its so simple. All we have to do is ask for it and we’ve got it. Could it be any easier?

Once we accept the truth of this, we can begin to trust and let go of what we have known. Once we let go, we can enter into that promised land where we will find that which we have always been seeking, God, and that which leads us into an eternal relationship with God.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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