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1st Sunday in Lent – February 14, 2016

Luke 4:1-13; Lent 1C

Jesus is in the wilderness again.

Every year, Lent 1, the Spirit leads or drives Jesus, fresh out of the waters of baptism, into the wilderness for 40 days of deprivation and temptation. Not exactly what I am hoping for following an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Can’t we be called beloved and then head straight to Galilee to get to work? Why this uncomfortable hiatus in the plot? It seems a few lessons need to be learned prior to launching into ministry.

Reading this text again, what strikes me this year is just how Jewish Jesus is. I get that this is obvious and I am embarrassed to admit that Jesus’ Jewishness caught me by surprise. And really, more accurately, what jumped out at me was the way this exchange between Jesus and Satan sounds like a recitation of a catechism between teacher and student. There is a call and response to this wilderness encounter.

No so unlike:
“What is the chief end of man?”
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
“Are there more Gods than one?”
“There is but one only, the living and true God.”

I have never thought about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as parenesis before, but I think, in some sense, it is. This story isn’t told only to demonstrate that Jesus won’t give into temptation, it is a model for those of us who will cave to pressure, over and over again. Jesus doesn’t need to turn stone to bread. He is the bread of life. Jesus has no need for worldly authority. He is Lord of all. Jesus in no way needs a sign from God. He is the sign from God, Immanuel. And yet, aren’t these the three things Jesus’ followers struggle repeatedly to grasp and fail to live out in countless ways?

It is we who seek to do an end run around God’s plans for provision: hoarding the manna we’ve been told will be there every morning, building barns to store up that which will should be shared, sending the crowd home rather than giving them something to eat. Stones to bread? Why yes, we will and we do. What won’t we turn into bread, dough, a commodity, cash? That leads us through door number two, the desire for the power brought by those stones-turned-to-bread.

It is we who want the glory, the fame and all the adulation and perks that go with it. We worship lesser lords all the time, and God’s creation pays the price for it. In an age when people are famous for being famous and all one needs is a camera and the ability to upload for a shot at notoriety then, yes, idolatry abounds. It is all about me. Imagine the opportunities for selfies in this scenario. Look at me. See the kingdoms in the background? Mine. Who should be worshipped now? We are in control of our own destiny. The world is our oyster. We worship whatever will get us what we desire or we worship that which we want and don’t have.

And finally, we often give into the third and final temptation. We imagine that God is at our disposal, brought out to bolster an argument or image, at the ready to make us look good or, at least, right. Yes, Satan, sign me up for that insurance policy. What could be better than having God on my side? I will be unstoppable.

The temptation isn’t for Jesus to be other than who he is. The temptation is for us to forget who Jesus is and subsequently who we are called to be. We don’t have power over creation. We don’t change stones to bread. We are the recipients and the stewards of all that God has made. We are the worshippers, not the ones to be worshipped. Servants of the servant master, not lord of the manor. We aren’t invincible, we are finite. We don’t summon God, God calls, claims and sends us. And yet the One without sin takes on all of our temptations, empathetic to our weakness, even as he prepares to go to Galilee and feed the masses, be despised and rejected by worldly powers and not just have his foot dashed against a stone, but have his body crushed for our transgressions.

So, watch and learn, future followers of the one who even though he was equal with God made himself nothing. Watch and listen. Hear the catechism of the covenant voiced in two parts by Satan and the Christ. Hear the challenges and memorize the responses, or at least make note of where to find the answers.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20)

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Perhaps this Lent is a time for some catechetical instruction, some Q-and-A about the faith that equips us to be led not into temptation. Jesus goes toe-to-toe with Satan, not with might but with the Word of God that he knows and is. We are certainly not the Word incarnate, but dwelling in that Word will surely allow it to dwell in us and subsequently we might know the source of true bread, the One alone we are to worship and the chief end for which we were created.

This week:

  1. The Old Testament text appointed for this Sunday is a retelling of the story of God’s redemption and provision. Jesus would have heard this story over and over again. How does the Exodus narrative equip us to resist the temptations of the wilderness?
  2. Not only does the Luke text point to Deuteronomy, it also points to apocalyptic texts in Ezekiel and Revelation. How might you read the Luke text as apocalyptic?
  3. Luke notes that Satan departed from Jesus until an opportune time. This detail is unique to Luke’s account of the story. Why do you think the writer of Luke includes this? When is that opportune time that Satan returns? Or is the struggle between Satan and Jesus ongoing throughout Jesus’ ministry?
  4. Given that memorization has gone out of style and few people are required to learn the catechism, how do we steep ourselves in Scripture in order to be so shaped by it that we can respond to temptation?
  5. The number 40 is significant in Scripture. Look up other Bible stories that have the number 40 in them. What similarities do they share?
  6. Here is a collect for Lent from “Venite” by Robert Benson: You alone bring order to the unruly wills and affections of sinners: May we love what You command, and desire what You promise, so that, among the swift and varied changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is to be found.

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