3rd Sunday in Lent
March 3, 2013
Luke 4: 1-13
Wouldn’t it be nice if the devil appeared at your side and in his most ‘used-car salesman’s’ voice propositioned you with some kind of temptation? In my experience, temptation is much sneakier than it seems in this story, and even after all the wrestling is done, it doesn’t just go away. My experience of temptation is that my own craving is what usually does me in. And I end up struggling with the same things time after time. You’d think we would be able to take some advice from Jesus’ example of meeting the devil head-on and defeating those impulses to my way, my stuff, and me, me, me. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t work that way for me.
We were talking about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on Wednesday night. Jesus has gone out from his Passover dinner with his friends, and in the garden, he throws himself down to pray about what’s about to happen. He knows one of his own has turned him over to the temple authorities, and that they will have him killed. His favorite disciples come along, but can’t stay awake to pray with him. This must be a scary time of temptation, and it seems a perfect time to recall that Jesus has wrestled with temptation and trust issues before. Hence the story from today’s reading:
Imagine Jesus rising right up out of the waters of his baptism. The heavens have opened flooding the world around him with God’s light. The Holy Spirit has floated down to rest upon his shoulder, and God’s own voice has wrapped around him, calling him “Beloved.” He must have felt as if he could conquer anything, as he sets out into the desert to prepare himself for his mission and ministry. Luke, the writer of this Gospel story tells us that he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Who knows how much of the outcome of the years ahead were explicit as he followed the Spirit’s leading, but he was clearly challenged to follow a different path than that of men his age in his society. No wife or family, no home, no comfort, no paid work, and more and more conflict within his own religious tradition as he called the Church to account for failing live according to the Law of God on which it prided itself. It was not going to be an easy life.
The three temptations listed here exemplify the ongoing temptations that Jesus must have faced every day of his ministry. The temptation to use his power to magically make everything he needed suddenly appear, rather than depending on others for the simplest necessities of life. The temptation to power and glory rather than the constant hounding and abuse from his disappointed relatives and the religious authorities challenged by his preaching and his calling them elitist hypocrites. And finally the temptation to take everything into his own hands, choosing his own way rather than depending on God’s strength and power against the darkest forces the world can bring to bear.
When we meet Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he has stood up to all the various forms of these temptations for at least three years. He has been wounded already by daily betrayals and stinging rebukes. He has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mistreated, even by his dearest allies. Certain of what is coming next and the physical torture that it brings, he must also be worried about his clueless friends. His agony has already begun as he prays. And when he needs them to keep vigil with him, they are so full of food and wine that they can’t stay awake.
“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time,” says the Gospel writer. This time is certainly opportune for the devil to arrive with a vengeance to show him a more comfortable way, or a way to just run. But Jesus does not give in this time, either. Whether it is the power of being God that sustains him, or whether it is just the experience of having stood up to every other test of his trust in God’s way, Jesus submits to God’s way once again. “Not my will, but thine be done,” is his answer to his own question of whether or not there is another option.
In the story of Jesus facing his trust in God and submitting to it so completely, we meet our own experience of trusting God through what seems like death to us. Each of us has faced our own dark days of decision. How we will be able to trust that what faces us is not the death we fear most, but may instead be the doorway to new life. New life is so painful. It strips away everything we have come to know and trust and if it were not for my confidence in a loving, trustworthy God, I am not sure I would ever have been able to face the new beginnings that I have been called to live through. This story of Jesus in Gethsemane, throwing himself into God’s arms is one that has sustained me. I have been able to say, “Jesus, if you were able to do that, then I can do this.
I pray that as you hear these stories of temptation and trust, and of God’s power to bring new life from death, that you will be able to turn with hope to whatever faces you. I pray that you will hear that God never leaves you on your own, but walks with you through the dark. I pray that you will know that temptation is a way of turning back to God’s promises and knowing that they are true for you, sealed with the death and resurrection of Jesus all those years ago, and present with you today. Amen
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.