Sunday, 9 March 2014

Away from it all

Sunday GospelMatthew 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.

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

The Spirit leaves Jesus with no option and he finds himself restlessly wandering through the desert and, long before the forty days have even begun,  the very first temptation could 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 friends; in front of everyone. Let me feel that feeling again. 

And then, perhaps Jesus 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 great length when was the moment when Jesus knew he was Divine? 

Was it ‘always and everything’ ,or, did the understanding grow along with his human development? Well, if he didn’t know by by his thirtieth year, sitting on the riverbank listening to the teaching of John, then, I would guess probably this point. 

Baptism brings about transformation. And Jesus is human, has been human for thirty years – with all the experiences of emotion that human life has given him. How overwhelmed must he feel?

Just think about it; have you ever experienced the ‘Eureka’ moment in faith. A time when you have struggled; you have climbed the mountain; until the moment 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 realise how foolish you are 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.  Jesus did not know what he was getting himself into-yet. 

 The people at the riverside were only the beginning and there were many roads to travel before the time came.

Jesus needs time; to see what lies ahead; where the pitfalls are likely to be;   where his help would come from. He needs to see his Father's plan in a place where there is no distraction. 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? 

We offer ourselves to be led by the Spirit into the journey of Lent. It may be arduous journey at times and as soul searing as any sandstorm but at the end, we can expect angels.



Lynda said...

Thank you for this deep reflection of what we need to be doing this Lent. The journey of Lent is indeed not an easy one if we enter it fully; however, the Resurrection awaits at the end. We are blessed.

Gelli Ma said...

We are Lynda, Blessed travelling