The Temptation of Jesus
First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 14, 2016
Nativity Cathedral, Bethlehem
[Listen to the sermon: Here]
So, if you were going to boil down this Gospel lesson about the Temptation of Jesus to a simple form, what were these temptations about? How about this way?
In the first temptation the devil seeks to reduce everything to basic human hungers. Spiritual things are not denied, but they serve as the basis for meeting physical needs. Jesus says that God is what is needed for life.
The second temptation is the devil’s show and tell about Power. Jesus is shown all the word’s kingdoms, and it is all offered to him if he would but worship the devil. Jesus says that God alone is worthy of worship.
The last temptation takes place in Jerusalem on the temple. The temptation is to use God for personal safety and salvation. Jesus says that we are not to bring God to the test.
- Temptation #1, to satiate one’s hungers, at any price. Go for it!
- Temptation #2, to make a god of something other than God for the sake of gaining power.
- Temptation #3, the subtlest of all, to throw away personal responsibility and demand that God perform daily miracles of personal care and security.
They have been summed up this way: Bread, power, and safety, or youth, beauty, and wealth, or confidence, fame, and security.
On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more attractive identity.
It is clear to me that today while no less dangerous, evil is much more subtle, and rather than being confronted with blatant temptations to ignore God, to worship some other gods, or to manipulate God, people in our day and time are tempted and seduced away from God and away from the true selves that God created us to be
Most of us spend considerable time trying to make our lives as safe and secure and comfortable as possible. We want to be able to sit back and count our blessings – our jobs, our homes, our successful children. Jesus turns the notion of a blessed life upside down – it’s dangerous!
Living in the Kingdom is finding strength in offering oneself, being vulnerable to God and to others, for others. Living in the Kingdom of God brought by Jesus leads to a life that is full and blessed, and can be, itself, a blessing to others. It is also a life that is risky because there are so many temptations.
In John Marquand's novel Point of No Return, for instance, after years of apple-polishing and bucking for promotion and dedicating all his energies to a single goal, Charlie Gray finally gets to be vice-president of the fancy little New York bank where he works; and then the terrible moment comes when he realizes that it is really not what he wanted after all, when the prize that he has spent his life trying to win suddenly turns to ashes in his hands.
His promotion had assured him and his family of all the security and standing that he has always sought, but it turned to dust. Charlie Gray comes to the truth when he realizes too late that he was not made to live on status and salary alone but that something crucially important was missing from his life even though he was not sure what it was.
Akin to this is the temptation to sacrifice one’s family on the altar of power, influence, and success. Some of you will remember the Groucho Marx TV show, “You Bet Your Life.” Well, we all do that everyday. The choices we make are about how we spend the life God has given us to live. It is the one life we have to live as we travel through this world of temptation.
Now there is nothing moralistic or sentimental about that. It simply means that we must be careful with our lives, because it also seems that this is the only life we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so what we do with it matters enormously.
Everybody knows that. We need no one to tell it to us. Yet in another way perhaps we do always need to be reminded, because there is always the temptation to believe that we have all the time in the world, whereas the truth of it is that we do not. We have only this finite life, and the choice of how we are going to live it must be our own choice, not one that we let the world, the flesh, or the devil make for us.
The complaint is sometimes made about Christians that we don’t live in the “real” world. Often there is the attempt to protect people from the “real” world – the world of evil and temptation – the world that plays out 24-7 on TV News and on the front pages of newspapers. Jesus knows this “real” world.
My pal, Bill Lewellis reminded me this week of the speech given by author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, 30 years ago. In part he said,
There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution, writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and by the Right. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free… Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.
"Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil … The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”
In our own day and time, I do believe it is the most insidious temptation offered by Satan; the temptation to indifference about the plight of others, the temptation to the priority of our own comfort and security, the temptation to deny our full identity as God’s own child, our full identity as Jesus own disciple, our denial to minister in his name.
It has been said that the devil’s goal was to tempt Jesus away from himself, from his identity as God’s own, God’s Beloved: to tempt Jesus away from being the One he was born to be. The devil failed with Jesus, thanks be to God.
How will Satan fare with you and me in this season, this world, this life, of temptation?
I will leave the last word to St. Peter Chrysologus, 5th century bishop of Ravenna, who described a holy Lent this way. "When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give … let prayer, mercy, and fasting be one single plea to God."