If only you will...

Week of Sunday 21 February: Lent 1
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And 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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’

9 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, 10for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you”,
“On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

12Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

I’d love to throw the scene from Jesus of Montreal, where Daniel meets the business men high above the city, up on the church wall this Sunday. Giving in to temptation could do so much good. It can scarcely be called ‘giving in.’

Does it bother you to come here?
-No, why?
Well...eating lobster while others eat hotdogs, or go hungry.
-If I came every day...
No, I ask because charities like Oxfam or Unicef always need spokespeople. It's a good cause, and you're assured maximum exposure. Or your face on salad dressing, like Paul Newman.
-I'm no gourmet.
Neither's he. Still, it's too bad. Cookbooks are sure sellers.
Ever thought of publishing a book?
- You mean a novel?
Yeah. Or your memoirs..travels, your fight against drugs or alcohol, anything.
- I'm no writer.
I said publish, not write. Publishers all have writers with talent and no money.
- Of course.
Do I shock you? I'm just trying to show you that with your talent this city is yours. If you want it…

Bill Loader begins his commentary this week with these words:

Why tell this story? Because it happened? But many things happened. Because it must have happened? This would certainly have been a widespread view: heroes must have had to struggle, must have been tested and won through to be able to reach their height of achievement. Such a story was almost as necessary to such a life story as birth narratives which symbolically prefigured events and significance to come.

Jesus returned from the Jordan… the place of blessing and entry into the promised land. The forty days in the wilderness resonates with the forty years in the wilderness of the people of Israel. He, too, undergoes the cleansing of a wilderness time. It shows Jesus is worthy of the task as his ministry begins.

Bill also says

Wilderness was the wild place, the waiting place, the place of preparation… It also connected then, as it does now, to very basic spirituality: a place to grapple with God, a place to learn dependence on nature and its provisions, a place of extremes or contrasts, of wild beasts and desert… It is the Lenten space par excellence.

He equates wilderness with the outback.

For we Australians the equation of wilderness with outback works. Getting out into the wild places was something that I did even as a child. As soon as I had a driver’s license I would take a vehicle from the farm, and head off into the near outback beyond Quorn and Kanyaka, and out on the Wilochra plains. They called. They were a place to be, and… just be… holy places, which filled some of my inchoate longings for the Divine.

We see similar longings in many people; not least our obsession with 4WD vehicles. We head for the beach, and the country during the holidays. People will soon be considering where to go for Easter: will there be enough water to make it worth going up the river? Easter is the end of the festive season, a last chance to recharge before the long grind of winter. [Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in Australia.]

Pastorally, it bothers me when people head outback for Easter with a Winnebago’s worth of gear stuffed in the back of their Landcruiser. We take the world with us into the wilderness! Here in Adelaide, there is a company who advertise their verandahs on TV as ‘the great outback.’ It’s a clever pun. But again, people place $6,000.00 barbecues, and waterproofed sound systems, under the great outback, and lose a little opportunity to retreat into simplicity and be re-forged.

I think it was Morton Kelsey who said something like, “You cannot be a liberal minister with any integrity, unless you have had a breakdown .” Testing in the wilderness is what makes us. It forges us. This is not something which is restricted to clergy, of course!

The middle temptation seems to be the high point of Jesus resistance. It is the centrality of who he is, and has the strongest refutation. The devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world. "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.” ’ The Messiah must serve only God.

It’s worth noting here that the devil lies to Jesus. The authority of the kingdoms of the world has… “been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.” One could make the case that evil does have a sort of provisional authority, like Satan in Job (eg 1:12). But the point is that what temptation offers us is not true. It will fail us, no matter how much it promises.

We see also, that the Messiah is not essentially a miracle worker; we do not live by bread alone. And the serving of God does not depend on the spectacular. Do not put God to the test.

Of course the devil only “departed from him until an opportune time.” Temptation never goes away in this life. In Jesus’ case, when he is hanging on the cross, the people will say to him, “If you are the King of the Jews… 23:37 (John Petty)

Bill asks us

Did not the early communities hail him Messiah, Christ? The answer was yes, followed by hurried footwork which had to sidestep the kind of expectations which informed such concepts in those days, including Peter’s. Remember he is addressed as the devil is, here: ‘Get behind me Satan!’ (Mark 8:33).

Bill is correct to say that the temptations story is a “subtle way of defining just what Jesus was and what he was not.” In the hot bed of expectations about the Messiah, and resentment of the Romans these were indeed “important political and religious clarifications in a dangerous environment.”

He goes on to say

They become dangerous mostly in a different sense for us, although we should not forget those societies where being Christian makes one a target for the accusation of armed intent and ruthless suppression.. The western dangers lurk in the lure of popular religion which lives (including: is funded!) from the sensational, derailing the vision of the change that really matters, and promises wealth of feeling and funding.

However, we live in a time of cultural decline. Even Adelaide has just had a bombing… albeit the poor fools blew themselves up, instead of their victim. A generation ago, Donald Mackay, a Christian anti drugs campaigner, was murdered in Griffith. While life is still very safe for deliberate Christians in Australia, we too may be called into a place of great wilderness.

For the most part, though, Bill is correct. The lure of popular religion is our great temptation. If we take our theology seriously, this temptation is just as deadly; we will simply be dead while still alive, judged already (John 3:17?)

How much easier it would be to fulfill the longings of the congregation when we preach, speaking of miracles and healings, proclaiming rumours of raisings from the dead on remote islands in Indonesia, which would also happen here if we only had enough faith. How exciting to slip into a mantra of positive thinking, or prosperity gospel, blinding ourselves to the transforming freeing opportunities life is placing before us in the hard and the unpleasant, but real, particularities of today.

How easy it is to give in, when congregants cry out in fear or frustration, "If you were really a minister of God when you preached..."

If Jesus must avoid these traps to be a real messiah, then I too must avoid them, to be his disciple.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!



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