Five years ago, life looked a whole lot different for me. Hilla and I were living in Ottawa with no children. We had coasted into town on a hope and a prayer, the van I traded for to get us there promptly died shortly after we moved into our apartment. She was a Music Director at a church and I was working as the Research Analyst/Assistant to the Defence Attaché at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? In many ways it was exactly what I wanted out of life at that time. I studied Political Science & History and I found work related to my field, no small feat these days; it provided a steady paycheque to pay the bills; something life as a musician and a student never really afforded. Until I got the job I was working long days as a labourer through a temp agency just to scrape by.
It was a very prestigious position; it fed my ego and my self-worth tremendously. I rocked a deadly suit every day, managed highly confidential information, organized and attended high profile events and meetings, wrote speeches for diplomats, etc. I can look back at myself now and see how puffed up with pride I had become. I succumbed to the temptation of self-importance and arrogance.
In many ways, I was achieving all of the measures of success that our society values so highly. From the outside, it finally looked as though I had my act together. My parents were worrying less. I was a pretty big deal, or so I thought. Over time, I realized that I was falling deeper into this trap of idolization of the self. I didn’t notice it at first, but over time I grew cynical and angry, heartless even. It was all about me. Even then, I remember wrestling with the call of the Church, but I was pretty quick to dismiss it. I enjoyed the comfort, stability, and prestige of my new life. But in retrospect, I can see that I was closing in on myself, exhibiting very little grace to the world. Sure, I went to church every week, but take it from me, coming to church every week does not guarantee our salvation, it does not guarantee that we are in right relation with God. Right relation requires much more. Turn away from “me” and embrace the “we”
I remember having a moment of revelation one day, I said to myself, I’m really getting sick and tired of living such a selfish existence, I am not enjoying this anymore. I was overcome with the emptiness of the life that I was creating. Sometimes revelation comes from within, and sometimes it comes from without. One day, Hilla pointed out that I had grown very angry in general. For whatever reason, it shook me to the core in a way that only deep truth can do. It was as if she held up a mirror and showed me someone I didn’t recognize. I always thought of myself as a happy, caring and optimistic person. Lured by temptation, I had become something I was not, something I did not want to be.
Around that time we decided to have Lumi, and things began to change for me. We Lutherans are sometimes fond of saying that God comes closest in suffering, the whole Theology of the Cross piece. Of course there is deep wisdom in seeing the world that way, but God also has a way of bulldozing a way into our lives through joy and the wonder of life as well. God manifests itself in my life daily, most clearly through my daughters, but also the sky, or a blade of grass. Through the everyday miracles of life, God charges into my heart and mind and announces the Kingdom at hand that Jesus tries to tell us so much about. And so it was in that context Hilla and I started the conversation about moving to Kitchener and I began a lengthy battle with my temptation of self idolatry. A battle that is never over, as our readings teaches us, temptation retreats until the opportune time.
I’m telling you this story today because it has to do with the reading
What is obvious is often not the case, temptation, me to we, etc.
Today’s Gospel reading is a very powerful lesson about temptation. To give you a little bit of context, prior to our reading, Luke briefly recounts Jesus’ baptism, lists Jesus’ ancestry, tracing his lineage all the way back to Adam. Which leads us into the temptation of Jesus. Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the Spirit where he engaged in a battle of wits with the devil.
We are told that Jesus fasted for forty days, and you often hear this story portrayed in a mystical/miraculous manner. It raised questions in my mind about the assumptions we sometimes act out of when dealing with scripture, tradition or otherwise. This seems like a good example to present for your consideration. Read word for word, the Gospel says “he ate nothing at all during those days.” And when they were over he was famished. It seems that this was when the temptations occurred, when Jesus might have been at his most vulnerable. Because of ongoing engagement with Jewish and Muslim communities and a willingness to learn more about their religious practices, I came to realize that fasting is a very important religious practice among Middle Eastern people. It does not say what he did in the evenings, however, but I wonder
I’d like to share with you a story which I think relates to today’s Gospel reading
In all three temptations the Devil attempts to split Jesus from God: to get Jesus to use his divine power in his own selfish interest, to ally himself with the Devil, and finally to shock God into rescuing him.
It’s a story that tests us. As we read it again, especially on the first Sunday of Lent, aren’t we really the ones who are being put to the test? Lent has always been a time of fasting and repentance, of self-discipline and self-examination. Usually, and no doubt rightly, this is an opportunity to restrain our appetites, to purify our desires, to revise our priorities and to repent of our sinful ways, all in order to be free once again to meet Christ in the events of Holy Week and Easter. But is there not also a purification of our intellectual assumptions, an asceticism of the mind? Are we not summoned to re-examine our deepest theological presuppositions? Don’t our natural assumptions about what ‘divinity’ means need to be brought out into the open and critically re-examined? And then — doesn’t our idea of what the Son of God must be able to do seem remarkably like the Devil’s idea? Don’t we find that we too are inclined to think that it would have been great to see him turn stones into bread, to take over control of the Roman Empire, and to leap from the topmost pinnacle of the holiest building in the city? Don’t we find this pathetically childish game that the Devil plays all too tempting? To put it crudely, aren’t we inclined to equate divinity with magical powers, arbitrary omnipotence, and zany displays of Superman bravado? As Scripture keeps insisting again and again, isn’t it always some form of idolatry from which we have to be endlessly converted? As we reflect on the Devil’s picture of what the Son of God should be able to do, isn’t it our own natural preconceptions about divinity that come to light, to be exposed, resisted and repudiated in the light that shines from the face of the crucified Lord Jesus Christ?
The con man is not ugly. The con man does not sell you on enriching others, they sell you on enriching yourself.
Jesus did it for us so we don’t have to
The temptations the devil presents to Jesus in Luke's narrative mirror realities that tempt us all. The devil tempts Jesus during his fasting with bread, the promise of earthly power and glory, and his own self-reliance by reciting words from the very source to which Jesus will turn to resist them-God's word.
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