Matthew 4:1-11 After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
During Lent, our readings, our prayers, and our hymns all are well laden with a focus on self-examination, penitence, self-denial and alms giving. As we shift our focus over the next few weeks to our own wilderness experience, we rediscover the undertones of our struggle with temptation, and the word we often don’t like to speak about; sin. Sin is our ongoing grappling with the human desire to put ourselves in that place, which is to be occupied by God alone. We often deal with a “me first” attitude that can deny the very relationships for which we were created; the love of God and the love of each other. We are often tempted to slip into a “Me first mentality.” We make the mistake sometimes thinking that temptation has something to do with a legalistic system that encourages moral behavior for the sake of piety and holiness. God doesn’t desire our personal righteousness as an end alone, God desires us to be in loving relationship both with God and with each other. Our spiritual brokenness is about relational failure and not law breaking.
While driving down the main drag the other day, it was obvious that there was a lot of law-breaking going on. There were four people stopped on the side of the road for some obvious traffic violations. The law had been broken and someone was going to pay a fine. God’s law and the sin associated with it, has been represented to us as a legal transaction similar to the traffic stop. In other words, some folks think that when we break one of God’s laws, there’s some sort of penalty to be paid. There is very little relational connection to the traffic stop. The law was broken and the ticket is issued. The officer is merely applying justice and that may at times seem a bit cold and non-relational. We may confuse God’s dealings with human brokenness as a cold and distant transaction as well, but God is personally invested in his creation. God’s love is never-ending.
Consider for a moment, sin really is the choices we make which perpetuate broken relationships and it is not a mere legal transaction. The sins of coveting, stealing, lying, and that adultery thing, has at it’s core a brokenness in relationship among neighbors. “Having other gods before me,” “not using God’s name in vain” and all that has its foundation a broken relationship with God. The heart of that brokenness raises its ugly head, when we live in such a way that we value our own needs above the love we have for God, and our own needs above the love we have for others. Placing others, and ourselves above God is like making ourselves into little gods.
Jesus, both fully divine and fully understood this frailty and yet he faced the same human temptations that we do. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus was desperately hungry, having been in the desert for 40 days, and as a result he considered turning stones into bread. This is the temptation of seeing to our own needs over others. Despite his hunger, Jesus’ personal needs did not get in the way of his ministry to feed the world. Jesus remained faithful to the wilderness experience and it led him to feeding the crowds from a few loaves and fish, and through the cross and suffering, he offers the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation. He continued on to the cross so that he might be offered to us in self-giving love. Jesus demonstrated that as brothers and sisters, we are interdependent and as such, we are invited to offer self-giving love to the world.
The next enticement came when Jesus considered the temptation of throwing himself down from the height. This enticement draws out the attitude of complete and utter self-sufficiency, a “pull-oneself-up from the bootstraps” mentality, or the “I can take care of it all myself mindset.” We forget that we are creatures and that our very lives come from God, every breath we inhale is a gift. When we succumb to this temptation, it carries with it the misunderstanding of our place in creation, and it influences how we live and how we relate to others. We’ve all heard the old saying, “No one is an island,” and sure enough, it’s true. We struggle when we try to live alone, isolated from others because we all have a desire for human connection.
The reality of our lives is that we have an utter dependence on God and an equally important dependence on others. Jesus remained faithful to the wilderness experience and did not throw himself off the temple to test the human go it alone with out God, independent, can do attitude. Rather, Jesus demonstrated, the need for human dependency on God, and he gives his life as a ransom for many.
The last temptation in the desert was, “All this is yours if you will bypass the cross.” Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, not because he is merely a miracle-worker, a great teacher, or a good man, but because he is the Crucified One. When Jesus told Peter he would be crucified, Peter couldn’t stand the thought. Peter’s squeamishness about Jesus’ death is precisely the appeal of the Accuser’s temptations. Why bother with the cross when you can go straight for the glory right now? Worship something other than God and forget this self-giving love and obedience. Jesus had to endure fully the human experience. He demonstrated the love of the God who is willing to walk the same path that we walk. Jesus remained faithful to the wilderness experience and did not turn away from human suffering rather; he endured it.
Lent is the time to self examine our own response to the temptations we face. Jesus recognized his relationship to humanity and his love for us overcame the temptation. We too, through a deepening understanding of our relationship to God and each other, and through our utter dependence on God, we can endure the temptations of life. We can embrace the notion of the sovereignty of God and the unity of humanity.
There is a very basic equalizer amongst God’s creatures. We all come from the earth. The great leveler of humanity is our own mortality, and as such, we are all in this together. When we recognize that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, we come to know that we are not little gods, because there is one God. We are all creatures of the Almighty, and in God’s eyes, we are one family, and yet God individually knows our needs, knows our suffering, and knows our transgressions.
Self-examination over next five weeks is a time for us to prepare ourselves to resist temptation and to be strengthened in our relationship with Christ. Through God’s grace we may begin to know our own vulnerabilities to the “me first” mentality. This Lent, we can enter a period of spiritual spring-cleaning. We can become inherently aware of our own struggles with temptation. By being obedient to our own wilderness experience these next five weeks, we can draw closer to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can with confidence, come to know the grace that has already endured the same trials we endure, and has paved the way for our sanctification, which is our being set apart for the special purpose of love in the world.