The Temptations of Christ, 12th Century Mosaic, St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy.
[Jesus said], it is also written, 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 4:12-13.
Click on words highlighted in red for supporting material.
The first Sunday of Lent begins with the first time Jesus came to grips with the revelations made to him at his baptism, that he was God’s Son and that he was the long-promised Messiah. He had retired to the desolation of the desert through which the River Jordan runs, where he found solitude, silence and reflection, perhaps in a place like the oasis of En Gedi:
En Gedi, Negev Desert, Israel.
And this became a teachable moment for the Lord, as described in today’s gospel. Presumably he went there to clear his mind, try to come to grips with what had happened to him, and to get some understanding of what it all meant. Then he confronted the Devil… A teachable moment. Let us look at an example from our own day. Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a professor at Harvard University. On July 16, 2009, Dr. Gates was driven home in Cambridge, Mass., by taxi. He had difficulty getting into his house, so the taxi driver went to his assistance. Someone called 911, thinking this was an incident of breaking and entering. Dr. Gates was arrested. The charge was eventually dropped, but not before this had become a cause célèbre reflecting race relations (Dr. Gates is Black) and law enforcement. It had become a teachable moment, even to the extent that President Obama commented on it and the nation made aware of the incident. The fact that the totally innocent Dr. Gates is Black was sufficient, it seemed, for guilt to be assumed. (Unhappily this kind of thing has continued to this day, happening in a California shopping mall a few days ago). The Devil, confronting Jesus, newly coming to grips with the revelation that he was the Son of God and Messiah, saw all this as a great opportunity. Three major temptations were thrown at the Lord, seen in the St. Mark’s mosaic above. And the teachable moment is for us. Jesus was confronted by the temptations of hunger (or comfort), wealth and power. Why on earth should the Son of God be hungry? He has immeasurable power, certainly enough to change rocks into the most delicious crusty bread….. or if he throws himself off a cliff, wouldn’t God his Father save him? That would be for Jesus to serve himself through his divine relationship with his Father and thereby to put God to the test. No. Not now, not ever. So the devil, who rules over the world (and don’t we see that every single night on TV news?), offers Jesus unparalleled wealth and power for a simple nod in the devil’s direction. No. Not now, not ever. And in all this we are taught to put our trust in God. We are also taught not to trust the Devil, not now, not ever. And then there’s that little moment at the end of today’s gospel, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” For a time… It refers to the ultimate temptation Jesus had to face, nailed in agony to a wooden cross with a baying crowd yelling “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40), Jesus knowing of course that he did have such power, but never to be used for himself. All his power, all his knowledge, all his personality was to be used for the benefit of us. And there lies the heart of this season of Lent: what lesson have I learned from that teachable moment? What needs to be done to align myself even closer to the Lord and his example?
We come into the world with a blank sheet on which we will inscribe our life. We are baptized into the faith we have in the Lord. Our gifts will become our skills, our power, if you like, freely given us by God. We are anointed at our baptism, and hence become Christ, (“Christos” which means anointed in Greek), to the world. So our model is Jesus and what he did with his life. He taught us through his life what to do with ours. We are here to serve God, our neighbor and (in this order, lastly) ourselves. Lent asks a question: Is that what we are doing with our life? We have 40 days to come to grips with the answer, and what to do with the result of our meditation. Only each one of us can do that, with God’s help. So let us all ask for exactly that.
So Help Me God, Rev. Dr. James Merritt.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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