First Sunday in Lent
Year C, RCL
March 10, 2019
North Fork Ministries
After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written,
'Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.'"
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 protect you,'
'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Luke tells us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. It was a formative time in Jesus’ life. John the Baptist had just baptized him in the River Jordan and he was beginning to embark on his ministry. Jesus’ identity was being shaped and his encounter with the devil in the wilderness played an important part in Jesus’ ultimate realization of who he was and his destiny.
Jesus was tempted to turn a stone into bread and thus satisfy his hunger, to worship the devil and thereby gain influence over the world, and to prove that God would protect him even if he jumped from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus passed the test with flying colors, preferring to trust in the Word of God, rather than succumb to the devil’s temptations. But really, what else would we expect from Jesus – the son of God, from whom we imagine perfection?
With we more ordinary human beings, it is a different story. When my son Nathan was about 16 years old, on the edge of manhood, and very much testing the boundaries of what was permissible behavior, he gave me a call one evening to let me know of his whereabouts. Like most parents, I did my best to keep up with where my children were. And so as we had agreed, that when his plans changed, he was supposed to let me know.
I wasn’t home when he called and so he left a message on our answering machine. This was in the dark ages when land lines and telephone answering machines were still common. The message he left began like this, “Hey Dad, I’m heading over to Sam’s house for awhile. Just gonna play some video games and hang out there.” Nathan and Sam had been friends since T-ball days and they were both pitchers on their high school baseball team. Sam was a good kid and I knew his parents well, so I thought the plan sounded okay.
When I got home, I listened to Nathan’s message and was about to turn off the answering machine when I realized that the recording hadn’t ended.
Nathan had borrowed a cell phone from one of his friends to make the call and somehow, in the confusion of the evening, had failed to hang up the phone. Consequently, the voices of Nathan and his friends continued to be recorded on our answering machine for about a half an hour. It became clear that playing video games at Sam’s wasn’t the real plan. It sounded like most members of the baseball team were packed in a van, and were loudly and energetically putting together a party for the evening – determining whose fake ID they would use to buy beer, whose parents were not at home, and what girls they would invite over. There was a lot of whooping and hollering and all the crude language you might expect from bunch of 16-year-old male athletes.
I waited up for Nathan to come home that evening. A little past midnight he walked in the door, looking tired and bedraggled, surprised to see me still up. Noticing some displeasure on my face, he said, “You got my message, right?”
“I did,” I answered. “Sit down, I want you to hear something.”
He sat down on the sofa and I turned on the answering machine and played the message back for him. Together we listened to the entire 30-minute recording of him and his buddies carrying on like complete idiots. As Nathan listened, his chin fell to his chest, he sighed repeatedly, and there was a hint of a tear in his eyes. He was utterly humiliated.
There was no need for me to scold him, punish him or threaten him. He heard with his own ears how he sounded when he was being deceptive, showing poor judgment, and acting more like a foolish kid, rather than the discerning young man he would become. It was an identity forming moment. He saw himself as he had been. He didn’t really like the self that was portrayed on the voice recording. And he realized that he wanted to be something else.
Unlike Jesus, no one ever described my son Nathan as perfect. Like the rest of us, he often falls short of perfection. But also like the rest of us, he has the capacity to be tested, come up short, and respond by altering his behavior, becoming something better.
Temptation presents us with a good opportunity to really look at ourselves. Not to just imagine whom we think we are, but to test our mettle, to see how we actually behave when presented with an opportunity to choose evil or to choose good. It is easy, in the abstract, to imagine that we are generous, kind-hearted, unselfish, but when we are actually put to the test, how do we respond? How often are we really willing to sacrifice, give up something that is meaningful to us, for the benefit of our neighbor?
Here is what Pope Francis said to the world in one of his Lenten messages: "Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience."
Instead of giving up chocolate or alcohol or Krispy Kreme donuts for Lent, we are being asked to give up our indifference to others. He added: "We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own."
Like Jesus, we too are tested, repeatedly over the course of our lifetimes. It is revealed to us, as it was to Jesus, who we are by the temptations we resist and by the temptations to which we yield. The sinless nature of Jesus was evident in his capacity to resist temptation. Our weakness, as fallible human beings, becomes apparent when we fail to resist temptation. Yet part of the joy of being a Christian is the realization that we don’t have to rely solely on our own “will power” or inherent goodness to resist evil. God’s grace is there for us.
Jesus’ capacity to resist the temptations of the devil was enhanced by his growing awareness that he was as One with the Father. We carry that same assurance with us as we face temptation. God is at our side.