By Rev. Heather J. Blais
On the first Sunday of Lent, we hear the strange, and somewhat curious, story of what happens to Jesus in the wilderness. The story appears in all three of the synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In each one:
In Mark’s gospel, there is no context for what it looks like to be tempted; instead we are told Jesus was not alone. Rather, he was ‘with the wild beasts’ and the ‘angels waited on him.’
Meanwhile, Matthew and Luke paint a picture of a famished Jesus, a result of forty days of fasting. Satan then finds creative ways to test Jesus' dependence on God, suggesting self-centered alternatives. Each time, attempting to fan Jesus' ego: "If you are the Son of God…”
When you imagine this story, it may be helpful to picture Satan, some sort of being tempting Jesus; or it may be helpful to picture the temptation coming from our ego within - go with whatever helps you imagine the story more fully. Either way, Satan or the devil, are names that represent the power of evil in our world and the sinful desires that can separate us from God.
In one test, Jesus is tempted to end his hunger by turning a stone into bread. He responds to the temptation by declining to use his power and newly realized position to serve himself. Instead, he draws on scripture, remembering that as followers of God, we do not live by bread alone, but rather we live by putting our faith and trust in God.
In another test, Jesus is tempted to use his position of authority, power, and influence over all the kingdoms of the world. Again, he responds to the temptation by using scripture to reject any possibility of worshiping or serving the evil powers of this world. Instead, he chooses to lean into his faith, to serve and worship the Creator and Caregiver of the universe.
Lastly, Jesus is tempted, through mind games, misusing scripture, to step off the pinnacle of the temple, where God’s angels would surely protect him from harm. Yet Jesus resists the bait, drawing on scripture to remember that if we are really living a life of faith, we don’t need to test God, instead we trust in God.
Then in Matthew, the angels waited on him; while in Luke, in a very curious turn of phrase, it says, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” In other words, this would not be the last time Jesus was faced with temptation.
It is worth remembering that:
We experience temptation when we have a desire to do something that would be considered wrong or unwise. At the root of temptation is a choice, a decision.
Did you know that we make over 35,000 decisions every day? And these are just the decisions we are at least remotely conscious of: What do I want for breakfast? What do I wear today? Should I like my friend’s post on social media? What do I need to pick up at the store? We utilize a combination of tactics when making these decisions, and Frank Graff summarized six of them in a Science Now article. We use:
Decision fatigue is real, and it affects the choices we make, and the temptations we experience. Add in our ego and our self-centered culture and it is easy to lose our way. The gift of our Lenten journey is that we are invited to do the critical work of self-examination and reflection.
We might begin the work of self examination like a body scan in meditation, scanning through our daily lives, noticing our beliefs and values, our actions and behaviors.
Close your eyes, go for a walk, journal, or talk it out with a friend- do whatever will help you to take notice:
The Lenten charge is to engage in self-examination and reflection, to take notice. Yes, of course we will discover there are places in our lives that:
These are choices made in love and prayer; in conversation with God, our family, friends, and community. We are in this together, and can support one another in this important work. And we can look to Jesus, who modeled making difficult decisions in the face of great temptations, by trusting God, again and again.
I’ll leave you with one last thought.While reflecting on Lent, my colleague Rev. Ted Thorton wrote, "The point of self-examination is committing oneself to do the looking even when you don't know what you're looking for, and even though you may not in the end find anything or reach closure about anything."
I’ll say it again:
The point of self-examination is committing oneself to do the looking…
Together, this Lent, let us commit to ourselves and one another, to do the looking. Amen.
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