1st Sunday in Lent
March 5, 2017
Matthew 4: 1-11 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
I’m guessing this is one of the hardest stories about Jesus for any of us to relate to. I have never met the Devil face to face and had to battle him down after a 40 day fast. I have never been tempted to throw myself down and let the angels rescue me or sell my soul for fame and fortune. How about you? So I think we have to get the whole story first before we can begin to connect Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness with our own experience of selling out or making expedient choices.
First we have to go back to the story before this one: Jesus’ baptism. It’s in Matthew 3: 13 – 17. (Click this link if you want to read the story). “This is my son, the beloved, with him I am well-pleased.” Then he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Well, I know what that feels like. It seems as if every time you have a religious high in your life – go on retreat, join a prayer group, become part of a wonderful Bible study – suddenly every reason in the world to seems to prevent you from staying there. Bible study is cancelled for a month because of ….something. Prayer suddenly seems like a burden; the duties of everyday life overwhelm you and all the peace of your retreat just vanishes. Suddenly you feel like you’re on your own, unable to stand up to the distractions. That’s when you forget all the love and power that God has to offer you. That’s when you forget that God believes in you, has called you beloved, and has sealed you with the mark of the Holy Spirit forever in your baptism. That’s when you forget not only who you are but whose you are. That’s when this story, so graphically portrayed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry makes sense to you.
Jesus will face these temptations throughout his ministry: the temptation to manipulate his power to satisfy his own comfort, the temptation to do everything on his own, risking himself, instead of developing the skills and experience of his students, the temptation to take all the credit and let power go to his head, setting up a kingdom for himself in this life. But he doesn’t succumb to these temptations now or ever. He humbly keeps his focus on doing God’s work of teaching, healing, inviting.
He trusts completely that God is already protecting him, giving him the resources he needs to carry out what is on his heart, and that the power of God’s love is enough for every demand that seems beyond his own power.
Jesus uses Scripture to fight the lies of his tempter. The lie that there will not be enough to sustain him physically. The lie that being God’s Beloved is not enough to sustain his work. The lie that being rich and famous are the most important things in life. But I think that Jesus also uses Scripture to remind himself of God’s faithfulness and to remember how trustworthy God is. He uses Scripture to remember that he is not alone combating fear and doubt. Because at the bottom of all temptation is the doubt that what God promises is enough. At the bottom of all temptation is the feeling of being alone and fighting our doubt and fear in isolation. When we remember Scripture or a hymn verse or call a friend to pray for us, we are turning to God in our own world. We are trusting that God’s promises will be enough, and whatever the fear or temptation, we have the weapons to fight it.
Weeks ago, in a Richard Rohr meditation, I read his statement that Jesus is our hermeneutic. Maybe you remember that ‘seminary’ word. It means that Jesus and what he did and said is the key to understanding and interpreting everything Scripture tells us about God’s love and how God’s kingdom works. In this story, we have before us this morning, so graphic and beyond our own experience of the subtleties of our own temptations to take our lives into our own hands and make things work out for us, we see Jesus stand up to the false promises of the tempter. He refuses to entertain the possibility of failing to be God’s Beloved, or the mission to which that commits him. He calls upon God’s Word to sustain him in his choices. He waits. “And suddenly angels came and waited on him.” The struggle is over. That is our model, our example of how to react to the feelings of fear and isolation and our own need for comfort or power that can call us away from the life that God has in mind for us.
Jesus’ resistance to the tempter’s lies and wiles can sustain us when we struggle. We are not alone. We have each other. We have our Scripture and our tradition to call on. We have the power of prayer. But most of all we have been called God’s Beloved in our baptism, too. We have already been named and claimed by God’s great love and the power of that love to hold us through life and death. May we always trust that this is the most important truth about us. Amen.