Lent 1 – 2014 – Tempted…?

So this is not really about temptation.  Not in the way we usually think about temptation.

When we say we are ‘tempted’, it means we are struggling to say no to something that we want, but don’t think we should have – an extra hour of sleep; a second slice of pie; just one more drink; one more game.

We have made temptation a momentary thing – our temptations are situational.  Once we get up from the table, or drag ourselves back to the desk, the moment has passed.  We have tried to remove temptation from us at times like Lent, not permanently, but for 40 days (or so) to prove that we can, at least for that long, master ourselves and deny the appeal of the frivolous things in our lives.

But temptation in Scripture is neither frivolous nor momentary.  Sure, the tempter leaves – to be replaced by ministering angels – but this encounter between Jesus and the tempter has set the scene for the whole gospel narrative.  This is really a story about the choices we have and the choices we make, and the spiritual, physical and practical consequences these choices have.  This encounter that we call ‘the temptation of Jesus’ is actually a preview of our reality – two different approaches to life – two competing theologies, actually –are displayed for us to consider.

First, the view that suggests that we can have everything we want; power, glory, independence (not to mention food that satisfies) – the ‘tempter’ shows Jesus all these things and says “here they are, take them – it is your right.  Don’t you deserve all this?

Call this temptation is you will, but for many of us, this is reality.  Raised on the notion that we can be successful, comfortable and powerful – all it takes is desire, determination and the unmovable conviction that we deserve the best.  This thinking is what drives modern capitalism, whose altars draw more devotion than any religion, past or present.  What good are technology and the marvels of modern living, after all, if you don’t take advantage?  You live in a prosperous, democratic, free-market society; enjoy it!  Treat yourself!  You’ve earned it.  With these ideas, we’ve moved beyond ideas of mere temptation – we would rather call ourselves empowered or worse, entitled.

Jesus offers a different point of view.

It is important that we remember that both sides of this debate in Matthew’s gospel resort to Scripture to make their case.  The tempter’s argument is simple: God wants good for you, and all that you see is good, so take it.  True, Satan offers only a single scriptural example, but the gist of that quote is that God desires no harm to come to God’s chosen – and aren’t we all desperate to be counted as God’s chosen.  Satan’s argument in favour of satisfaction and success comes up against Jesus assertion that our limited ideas of empowerment or entitlement cannot compare to God’s desire for us.

 

Consider again Jesus’ response to Satan’s suggestions:

Satan – “turn stones into bread – satisfy yourself”

Jesus: we can only be fully satisfied by including Scripture in our ‘diet’.

Satan – go ahead – attempt the impossible!

Jesus: a willful challenge to the created order is never a good idea.

Satan – the world is your oyster – I [Satan] have showed you the truth; human achievement has created the new paradise. Worship me and all you see.

Jesus: worship directed at things we have created is empty worship.

End of discussion.  Exit Satan, stage left.

Jesus was tired and hungry – forty days of isolation and fasting can make a body cranky – but Jesus was never tempted.

His devotion to a life that honours God’s holiness and sovereignty is complete.  The delights of the world are not enough – even in the delirious visions brought on by his time in the wilderness – to draw Jesus away from his conviction that the world is a better place because of God.  His worldview is intact- it grounded in the idea that God has already given us what is good and sufficient for our true happiness.  The debate with the tempter offers us a choice between two possibilities: happiness by our own hand/will, or happiness by the grace of God.

Too often it seems like we would rather ‘take the bull by the horns’ – so we work hard to ensure that our desires are met.  To trust in the grace of God seems too risky; too much like accidental happiness (and we don’t trust accidents).  But Jesus is not worried about God’s ability (and willingness) to provide all that is required (and indeed, more) for our total satisfaction.  He lives that conviction for his entire ministry – in fact, he is killed for it.

Jesus pattern of teaching and living – his conviction that the poor and the outcast were part of the family of God, and fit for the kingdom God had promised – all these put him firmly against a society that was firmly convinced of its own abilities to govern, to judge, and create paradise for itself.  Jesus choose to be governed by the sovereignty of God – to measure success according to grace – Jesus chose faith.

Our decision to answer Jesus call to take up the cross and follow – our convictions borne of faith in God and our desire to see the kingdom come – all these things place us in the same place of choosing.  The temptation is nothing less than success by our own hands – measured by our own standards – celebrated only briefly. But faith calls us to something more; a kingdom of peace, ruled by God’s eternal love – for time beyond time.  To which will you be tempted?

 

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