Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lead us not into temptation

Gospel - Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:
Man does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:
He will put you in his angels’ charge,
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.

It is difficult to imagine how Jesus must have felt after his baptism. There are many thoughts about how aware of his divinity Jesus was during his early life. My own thoughts are that it would have been difficult for him to be good at being human if he spent his time making clay sparrows come to life and healing his friends scuffed knees with a rub.

Certainly the Baptism must have been a pivotal point - a place of Trinity where God became present to celebrate Jesus' humanity and divinity - the Word becoming flesh. But not too much of a celebration - whilst the crowds on the riverbank chatter amongst themselves about what they have seen - the Spirit gathers him up and leads him out into the desert.

We are reminded every year of these forty days in our time of Lent - you would wonder how any human could last 40 days of fasting but, no matter, the number 40 represents a journey - a movement from one place to another. From where to where?

Jesus must enter the desert feeling pretty full of himself; an experience of God is never something to be taken lightly; ask any of the saints. To realise that you are the Beloved Son of God; after years of poverty; striving; suffering; of making the most of what you have; must have been extraordinary. Did the scales fall from his eyes? Was he overwhelmed with the possibilities that lay before him. Did it all seem so clear?

After all, being human had not been a joyride; Jesus had lived the life of an outcast, a refugee, a peasant. He had broken nails on his hands and hard skin on his feet. Being God meant it was in his power to change all that -to heal, to bring balance, to build the Kingdom with a thought and a wave of his hand. What would you do if you were God? The power to create a personal paradise  is a strong desire -ask any candidate  - even Miss World wants to cure all ills and end all wars.

After the thousands of years we had had free will - here was a God who could have taken it from us; with the best of intentions; with the benefit of human experience; with the desire to do good. It would be something his friends would ask of him; his enemies would expect. The Messiah with the flaming sword.

But that is not the Father's plan and it is the Spirit who is the symbol of tough love;  sheltering him in her wings, whispering to him the need for sacrifice, for submission, for the world to make its own mind up even if it means.....  Reassuring Jesus that he is full of  the Father's grace and that that grace will move through him for others; for others encountered in relationship; in friendship; in need; in love. Telling him there will be people who say no; who forget to say thank-you; who will demand; who will run away; who will betray and that that is their right.

It is only at the end of the forty days that the devil speaks; dehydrated and starving,Jesus must have looked an easy target - his humanity failing - and now there is the  the opportunity to make it all better. 

The devil is daring; telling God how to be God and then challenging him to act. Not realising that in his weakness and powerlessness Jesus now understands his freedom.  In admitting that you cannot do it by yourself. In needing relationships and intimacy; in needing his Father;  because God is not over us but within us.  God is not Power  but Love. As St Paul reminds us: 'if I  do not have love, I am nothing.' And God knows, we are more than that.


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