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”, and “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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is traditionally the 40 day season where the church focuses on restraint, confession, and piety leading up to Easter and resurrection. This all started as a time to emphasize the importance of leaving the old life behind and preparing to be baptized into a new way of living. This Lent we will be journeying with A Sanctified Art, a group who produce liturgy and support for worship, in a series called Full to the Brim. At first glance, this might seem like a strange theme for the season of Lent. But I hope with each passing Sunday as we hear more parables about God’s world that we know more and more how abundant this life is. We invite you to join us in moving from the old ways of scarcity into the new ways of abundance this Lenten season.
So we begin this Lent journey by entering into the wilderness with Jesus, the reason this season is 40 days long. We enter the wilderness not because we choose to but because we recognize the reality of the wilderness in our world. These are not evil places per se, but rather the places where life gets difficult and where we might be tempted into making choices that might seem great in the short term but go against our hopes and dreams in the long term.
Sometimes we are able to escape the wilderness and other times we are stuck in it. We do not volunteer for the pain and loss and danger and terror that can be found there. But we end up there one way or another. We may enter the wilderness because of an unexpected death, the loss of a job, a medical diagnosis, or a hurting relationship but it is something that all of us face at some point or another on this journey of life.
It is in these wildernesses that we may be tempted like Jesus to take short cuts, to cut out relationships, and to even lose trust in God. In the story of Jesus’ temptations, we see ho diabolos, the diabolical one, personify the many evil systems in our world that try to tempt us away from relationship and faith, even using “good” reasons to give in.
First, we see Jesus tempted by hunger to bypass the normal means of connection and humanity, to distort God’s creation to serve Jesus’ need. In fact, theologian Jeremy Williams, reminded me that this is what emperors like Augustus or his adopted son Tiberius would do. They claimed to be the son of god and with this claim would take whatever resources from whomever they wanted whenever they felt like it. They would use their power and authority to take for themselves whenever they had the inkling. But Jesus is not that kind of self-serving son of God. (Jeremy Williams, Working Preacher)
Second, we see Jesus tempted by political power. This is one that I think about often, “If I were president or king, I would fix all the problems.” At least that is what I think in my head. The connections between this temptation and the emperors of the day is very clear. In fact the word that is translated kingdoms in our text could also be easily translated as Roman Empire. But once again Jesus rejects political power as the ultimate means of providing liberation and instead chooses his embodied way of relationship and connection instead of power over to bring about change. This does not mean no one is called to political work or that political systems cannot be used for good, but rather Jesus says that he specifically cannot be part of the Roman empirical system that focuses on power over to show what God’s world will look like.
Third, we see Jesus tempted by the allure of safety. This is a powerful temptation in our world because it targets our deepest understanding of the fragility of humanity and the lie that vulnerability is bad. We want so much to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the world that so often is filled with violence but in doing so we cut ourselves off from relationship, love, and even God. We want guarantees that nothing bad will ever happen but we also have the lived experience to know that no one can guarantee that. Jesus rejects this temptation because Jesus knows that to be human is to be vulnerable and in that is beauty and relationship. To quote one of my favorite theologians talking about this passage Debie Thomas, “We are the children of a God who accompanies us in our suffering, not a God who guarantees us a lifetime of immunity.” (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus)
The diabolical one lurks in these gray areas of our world, tempting our deepest desires, without looking at the larger picture of what giving into those desires would mean in the long term. Is turning stones to bread really that bad? Is Jesus being the king or the president really going to hurt us? Is Jesus proving that God is caring for us going to damage our world? As we go about our lives and face these temptations in our own ways, in our own time we might be tempted to give in. We might say the ends justify the means. But Jesus is showing us another way. A way that is full to the brim with life and humanity. A way that is stuffed with transformation on the journey.
Lent is a time for us to focus on the abundance of God’s grace in our lives. This is grace that gives us all the fuel we need for the journey. It is a time to embrace all that is human, just like Jesus did in the wilderness. Even in the desert, in the spaces where it seems like death and violence are winning, in the spaces where we feel abandoned and alone, God is with us each and every step of the way. Lent is not about the destination but rather about the journey we are on with Jesus and with each other. How we get there, to that imagined world, to that resurrection Sunday, is the point. If we bypass the wilderness, if we abandon our morals for a quick fix, if we give up on one another, the destination will not matter. The ends do not justify the means. So join us on this Lenten journey and together we will walk hand in hand toward God’s world!