Luke 4:1 – 13
What is he going to do now? How is he going to do it? Why is he going to do it? The cool, cleansing waters of the Jordan have washed away the traces of his former life. Carpentry and Saturday Synagogue, home and family, Nazareth normality. All drift away down-stream. Now, everything changes.
After his baptism by John, and the heavenly voice from God, Jesus sets about thinking and praying and choosing which direction to take from the crossroads at which he now stands. Will his mission be like that of John? Living as a prophet out in the desert, denouncing the ills and sins of society, but from a lonely distance? Will he seek a confrontation with the religious authorities straight away? Establish an alternative people’s religion, liberated from Pharisaic rules and hypocrisy? Would freedom from Roman rule bring his people true peace with God? So should he struggle and fight for earthly freedom? There are so many possible roads he could now choose.
But which one is right? He chooses first the one that leads him into the wilderness. Wilderness for Moses had meant forty years of preparation for the Promised Land. After forty days of preparation, Jesus faces the temptations of the moment.
Stones into bread. What wouldn’t he give for a decent meal right now?… I wonder what you have planned for Sunday lunch today? And there, as soon as I mention it, a vision will appear before you, and your saliva glands will awake and leap into action, and you won’t be able to think about anything else. Sorry about that. But it’s hard to think big, when you are hungry. Or thirsty, or cold. Or frightened, or lonely or sad. Our immediate needs, our immediate fears, whatever they may be, shout much more loudly in our ears than grand plans for the future.
Earthly power. All the empires and kingdoms of the world could be his. Once you can begin to think really big, there need be no limits. What would you do, what could you do, if you won the lottery tomorrow? Look very surprised, I suspect, especially if you don’t ever buy a ticket. But power and money, and ambition go together, and become all-consuming. All the empires and kingdoms of the world, at a price: what an offer to have dangled before you!
Throwing himself into the arms of angels. Perhaps this temptation is the hardest of the three for us to get our heads around. Leaping off a building and expecting God to send his legions to catch us: not a temptation to which many of us are prone. But to make oneself the centre of attention! The role of drama queen or king; yes, I could see acting this way would be a temptation, in certain circumstances.
All the same, few of us are starving. This is the first Sunday of Lent. Even if we’re giving something up for Lent, the sacrifice hasn’t had much effect as yet. We’re not going to rule the world, though we might surmise that we could hardly do a worse job than those who currently do rule the world. Even our grandest gesture is likely to cause but slight ripples in the cosmic scheme of things. Besides, we don’t really go in for this sort of thing: wandering off into the desert. We already have lives to lead, and few of us find ourselves right now at such a crossroads as Jesus. We do face temptations; but they seem to be very different ones than those which trouble him. These are the temptations of his moment.
So what are the temptations of our moment, I wonder? The temptation to despair, perhaps? Where do I start? Knife crime is the big story of the week. Brexit, climate change, inequality? For a lot of people, the temptation is to succumb to hopelessness under the weight of so much bad news.
For others, it is to be consumed by how they think other people see them. I don’t have a Facebook page or an Instagram account in which I have to portray my life as glittering and trouble-free, so I can feel really smug about this. There couldn’t possibly be any other ways in which I might be self-absorbed, could there?… Jesus faces the temptation of forgetting about God in order to attend to himself and his immediate needs. Perhaps one temptation we face is that of worrying, about ourselves and the crises around us and the fears that we face, worrying so much that we forget about God in our lives.
Then there is the temptation to have. Not the kingdoms of the world, perhaps; but stuff. Or experiences. Or people. Or perhaps: the Simple Answer. Wanting to have the Simple Answer can tempt us to be simply for or against Brexit, or the enforcement of planning regulations, or whatever other issue it is, allowing no room to acknowledge that other opinions might also have some validity. The temptation to have the Simple Answer can lead us to regard all members of – and here insert your chosen racial, political, gender-based or age group – as the same. Jesus faces the temptation of having it all, by keeping his face turned towards God. We could resist the temptation of wanting to have, by facing the same way.
And there is the temptation to be the centre of attention, to exercise power for show. The youth group are having a discussion about power. ‘We have no power, they all agree. We just have to do as we’re told. Get up, go to school, study, revise, switch off our devices, tidy up our rooms, help with the chores. We can’t drive, we can’t buy a drink, we’re not supposed to smoke. Being young is to be utterly powerless’. ‘Much of what you say is true’, says the youth-group leader. But you still have the power of demanding attention; the power to make life miserable for your parents, or not. To communicate, or not. To worry them sick, or not. Jesus resists the temptation of attention-seeking by showing humility before God. Our relationship with God can help us do the same.
So we read that Jesus withstands the temptations that assail him. He’s on his own, out here in the wilderness, with only his thoughts and prayers. And crucially, his relationship with his heavenly Father. And so, quoting from only a couple of chapters in the Book of Deuteronomy, he triumphs over the urges to forget God, or to turn away from him, or to put him to the test. So that’s it. All sorted. Temptations resisted and overcome. Plain sailing from now on, then! We just go and do likewise.
We wish! These were the temptations of that day, that time in Jesus’ life. Other days will bring other dilemmas and tests and temptations. Temptations are always present; for Jesus, for us. Are we at a crossroads? We always are. But we too enjoy godly resources. Our faith, and trust in God. Each other, fellow pilgrims on the road. God’s story. Our story, and God’s journey alongside us, each step of the way thus far.
© Jon Russell 2019