February 17, 2013

Lenten Journey: Temptation

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.  The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."  Jesus answered him, "It is written, One does not live on bread alone."  Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.  The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.  All this will be yours, if you worship me."  Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written:  You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve."  Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written:  He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and:  With their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone."  Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."  When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
- Luke 4:1-13

For Reflection...

If Jesus provides the pattern for the spiritual journey of the Christian, it should come as no surprise to us that as soon as God declares to us that we are his beloved (Luke 3:22), we are driven into the desert.

The desert is the testing ground.  From our election as God's chosen, we must pass through the rigors of the desert to be equipped to live out our mission.

The testing we endure is "common to everyone" (1 Corinthians 10:13), and so to Jesus as to us.  We may think of the temptations we face in the flesh as unique; it is true that no two of us experience temptation in quite the same way.  To one, the Siren's call may be the lure of money.  To another, it might be sex.  Envy, avarice, gluttony, sloth -- every temptation has its adherents.  But the temptations Jesus faces in the desert embody them all.  

Stones into bread.  Power and glory.  Vanity projects.  It's all here.  We have different strategies for getting them, but in the end, what we want is the material security, strength, and recognition that the kingdom of this world rewards. In a ploy built on cunning and deceit, the father of lies tells us that the way to affirm our status as the children of God is to claim these worldly prizes. The devil in the desert tells us that they are his to give -- if only we will worship him.  And we are tempted.

Are we not?  Which of us has not longed for a bigger house, a nicer car, a softer bed?  Which has not imagined controlling the world -- or at least our little corner of it?  Have we not all wanted to be the object of  the ministrations of angels?  Would not that bounty signify our value in the eyes of God?

Such is the gospel of prosperity, but not that of Jesus Christ.  No.  He accepts hunger and thirst, weakness, and obscurity as the hallmarks of abiding in God's will.  He endures the desert.  He invites us to do the same, knowing that he has gone before us, goes ahead of us, carries us.

For Entering In...

Spend a few moments in the quiet becoming present to yourself.  Notice how it feels to be in your body to be here, now.

Invite God to be present with you.  Notice what it feels like to be in God's presence.

Reflect on these questions:
  • In what ways have you felt tested in your life, particularly in your life of faith?
  • In what way are you tempted by material security?  How much money would be enough?  What material goods do you covet?  For what do you hunger?
  • When do you notice your desire for power or control?  Under what circumstances?  What have you done to assert your power over others?
  • What kind of recognition have you sought?  Who do you want to notice you?  To hold you in high regard?  To like you or appreciate you?
  • Which seems most challenging to you:  The call to hunger, to weakness, or to obscurity?  Why?  
When you have answered these questions in your thoughts or in writing, pause and again become present to yourself and to God.  What do you notice?

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