Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tough Love

Luke 4:1-13
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone.

Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.’
But Jesus answered him, ‘Scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’

Then he led him to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said to him ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says:
He will put his angels in charge of you to guard you and again:
They will hold you up on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
But Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.

led by the Spirit

‘led’ being the nice way of putting it – the Holy Spirit being the original exponent of ‘tough love’.

The Spirit, more likely, leaves Jesus with no option and he finds himself restlessly wandering through the desert and I am going to hazard a guess what the very first temptation would have been – let’s get back to the Jordan. Let’s get back to that golden moment when my Father publicly acknowledged me in front of John; in front of my followers; in front of everyone. Let me feel that feeling again. And then, perhaps he hears the voice of the Spirit:

Why should you be in the desert?
Why would I want you here experiencing all these things?

Because it’s not all about you.

Jesus has just had the mountaintop experience of all time; theologians discuss at what point did Jesus know he was Divine? Was it ‘always and everything’ or did the understanding emerge with his human development? Well, if he didn’t know by now – then, I would guess, probably this point. Baptism has brought about transformation. And he is human, as well, had been human for thirty years – with all the experiences of emotion that time has given him. How overwhelmed must he feel?

We only have to think about ourselves; if we have ever had the opportunity to experience the ‘Eureka’ moment in faith. A time when you have struggled; you have climbed that mountain; you stand on the peak the clouds break and the sun shines on you. Like Jimmy Cagney, you are ‘on top of the world’. And in that explosion of happiness you feel joy and relationship and you feel God’s eye upon you. Then, all too often, you feel pride, vanity; you feel that you did it ‘all by yourself’; you feel powerful.

If God is feeling kind, you generally don’t get left there for more than a few seconds.

The ego gets a quick peek; enough to fulfill a few childish ambitions and then the mountain crumbles leaving you back on level ground and wondering why that happened. And it happened because it not all about you. In fact it’s not about you at all.

Whatever gifts, talents, opportunities you have been given, they are to do what God needs you to do. If you get there, if you do it, then all you have done is what you were meant to do. There may be a bit of job satisfaction in it – but the job continues – so get off the pedestal, take a moment, and get on with it. Finding the pleasure and joy in being where you are meant to be.

And it’s comforting to see that God treats his Son exactly the same way. The risk that it would peak too soon; that it would be over before it was even begun was too much, that really Jesus did not know what he was getting himself into. The people at the riverside were only the beginning and there were many rises and falls to travel before the time came.

Jesus needed time; to see what lies ahead; what the pitfalls are likely to be; to know where his help would come from; to have a ‘walk through’ in a place without distraction; where he knows he is on his own. What better place than the desert.

When Jesus faces the devil in the greatest temptations he doesn’t take him on himself; he doesn’t use his humanity; doesn’t use violence or argument; he knows who is the greater and calls on the strength of the Father – the Word of Scripture.

When he tells the devil ‘You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’ he knows that this also applies to himself; a surrender of will that accepts the promise of a harsh journey with very few mountain-tops.

During Lent we can use the temptation in the desert in our own meditations; how much of what we do is fulfillment of personal ambition? How much is pride and vanity? And then there is learning that although it is not about us – that’s ok - because look who it is about and look how God is there to support every move we make.

Pride belongs in the past; in smugness at what we have done. And we have not finished. Like Jesus, we have only just begun and we are being led by the Spirit.


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