Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness
About two months before Iris was born my friend and I went on the last of our great hiking trips to the Pyrenees. Whenever we went on these trips we would take weeks, choosing the destination, planning the routes, deciding which equipment we would take, and how we would get there. Of course before we could even make those decisions we needed to agree what we were looking for, what we hoping to achieve, and what we could realistically accomplish. Like with organising any holiday or even a group outing, it was important that as we planned the route we were aware of one another’s limitations and preferences. It was also important that we didn’t try to bite off more than we could chew in some attempt to prove ourselves.
On that last trip, when we were nearing the end, we were descending. We were tired and struggling with the path we were on, it was slow, winding and uneven. We decided it would be quicker and easier to simply walk in a straight line and meet the path on the other side of the ridge. Our arrogance and our desire to take a shortcut got the better of us, so we ignored our planned route and broke away from the path, hoping to pick it up in the woods on the other side.
I don’t think we ever found the planned path, instead we found ourselves having to scramble and slide down the side of the mountain, through the woods, hoping we would meet a path before we found a cliff edge.
It is so easy to be tempted to take the easy way out, to become arrogant and lazy when you are tired and hungry. Today’s Gospel comes immediately after Jesus’ baptism, and immediately before he begins his ministry. Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast, to contemplate, and to make some difficult choices. He must decide what his role is going to be, what he is willing to do to bring salvation and win over the world. He needs to decide if he will seek human authority as a powerful earthly ruler,
or if he will be the servant who is willing to sacrifice himself for the world he wants to save.
Most of the time temptation is about doubt and insecurity. My friend and I doubted our planned route in the Pyrenees and were tempted to make a foolish alteration. Like the doubt in the goodness of God sewn by Satan in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Jesus being tempted to turn the stones into bread is built on a seedling of doubt.
Each of the three temptations, the temptation to take the easy way out by making bread from stones, the temptation to take earthly power over people, and the temptation to put God to the test, are about sidelining God and God’s plan for Jesus. They are each about choosing a route ahead which is not about service and sacrifice as exemplified in the cross, and which ultimately leads to Christ’s resurrection. Jesus is tempted to use his divinity to take the easy route, exercising a violent and oppressive rule over the world. Rather than being the one who comes to give wholly of himself for the sake of all creation. Having made these choices, and challenged himself that they are the choices he is choosing to make, he is then able to proceed with his mission. When the crowd tempts him by proposing to make him a king after the feeding of the 5000, he is able to walk away. And when he is tempted by Peter to turn away from Jerusalem, he knows he cannot. When he is tempted in the garden of Gethsemane, asking the Father to take the cup away from him, he knows he must and will go ahead with God’s plan.
As individuals and as a society we have to make tough choices about our values. And then be prepared to hold to them when we are tempted to turn our backs on them. Some of those values work their way out in what we do as a church for our community, in the way we support each other, or what we do by volunteering and supporting other charities. Some of those values work their way out through the way we organise ourselves in Government. As Christians, we need to stay faithful to the values we have set for us by Christ. Even though those values can be pretty radical,
and ever so challenging. Christian values as demonstrated in Jesus’s choices in the wilderness; values of servanthood, of sacrifice, of compassion and humility. Even if at times our country and our government’s values fall short of those.
For example, I would argue that the taking away of the citizenship of an ISIS Bride demonstrates a way in which the values our nation holds are not in line with our Christian values. It is an example of us as a nation taking an easy way out. Idolising power which we don’t really have. Snapping our fingers and taking away somebody’s citizenship makes them no less human, no less deserving of our compassion or of justice. Denying our responsibility to them, and our responsibility to the rest of the world, by simply denying that they are our citizens, denying our responsibility to support their children. All these are about choosing a simple way out which is not built on values of servant hood or compassion, a way which idolises our own power.
In this time of Lent we are called to spend time discerning for ourselves where God is calling us, and where we are being tempted to put ourselves or the world before God and God’s plans for us. Whether it’s the way we speak up for others, or the way we care for our neighbours, or the way we welcome others into our midst. So let us pray for the wisdom of God to guide us in all that is good and all that is right in the sight of God.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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