St. Mary Nanoose Bay
March 1, 2020 - LENT #1
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness,” a place where he will be tempted after being baptized in the waters of the Jordan by John, and while there, hearing from God that he is truly beloved. The devil didn’t call him up to this arid place where there is nowhere to hide; the Spirit did. So why did the Spirit bring him to such a desolate place to face really difficult challenges?
We can’t know except to delve into the words we just heard from Matthew’s gospel.
For thirty years, Jesus had been living with his family, in community, reading and learning scripture, discussing it with his elders and later his peers, praying on his own and in community, learning the traditions of his people and the day arrived when he was ready; he was mature enough to begin his ministry. His baptism marks that moment when his life’s trajectory changes course.
After being baptized, and recognized, Jesus is tested. And as we heard, the Spirit leads him to a place where he will be tempted and tested by the devil.
Jesus follows the Spirit and prepares himself for a challenge. The fasting itself is not the challenge; the fasting purifies his mind and spirit for a test he must know is coming.
And when he has prepared himself, the test comes in the form of a devil - the “tempter.”
The tempter goes for his weak spot. Will Jesus capitalize on his relationship with God and perform a miracle to ease his hunger? No, Jesus will show again and again that all his miracle workings or healings are done to glorify God.
The tempter tries again. Will Jesus use his special status to show how God’s angels can save him? No, Jesus has a mission to save others, not himself.
Third time lucky? The tempter offers Jesus what so many of his fellow humans have compromised their integrity, their faith, their lives for – power, status and wealth. Is Jesus tempted to trade his life for such prestige? No, Jesus knows in whom he lives, moves and has his being? “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Jesus has obviously passed the test because “the devil left him,” and not only did he experience reprieve, but loving care came in the form of angels who waited on him.
To me, for my life, I take a number of lessons from this reading. First of all, that challenges and temptations are a part of life, a critical part. When we respond to the challenges that inevitably come our way with strength and clarity, we can experience peace, joy and loving care. Challenges help us clarify our thoughts, our values, our choices.
Second lesson, easy is not necessarily good; and, difficult, not always bad. We live in a culture bent on creating a stress-free life and in doing so, often we end up creating more stress for ourselves. Choosing what’s easy can create huge problems down the road. I know too many people who have left relationships because they were difficult only to have to live with the compounding repercussions that continue to echo on through the years. I think of my good friend who chose a relationship with her best friend’s husband because it seemed a lot more interesting and rewarding than her own marriage. The impact of that decision on her child, the man’s children and everyone around them still reverberates all these 25 years later. Of cours, it’s not for anyone else to decide when a relationship is no longer healthy and should end – it’s dangerous to judge any relationship from the outside – but it’s worth doing some fasting from desires and fantasies before making momentus decisions.
Third, every decision we take brings us to a new moment. And each new moment has momentum behind it. Tiny little seemingly insignificant choices compound to lead us in directions that will be healthy, or not - that lead us towards God, or away. I remember a priest telling the story of a man who came to confession saying he’d cheated on his partner - “Father, I don’t know how it happened!” The priest helped the man see how hundreds of small decisions had led him to that fateful decision…. the clothing he chose to put on in the morning, the cologne he started using, the breathmints he started carrying in his pocket, the choices to stay late after work, to use the elevator instead of the stairs, the timing of his lunch and coffee breaks, and so on. You get the picture.
Jesus’ time before his baptism prepared him for the big challenges ahead – his ministry, and later his trial and execution. Every choice his made created the momentum to carry him through - what he read, who he chose to spend time with, what disciplines he followed, how he prayed, how he treated those close to him, and so on.
In my years teaching parenting courses, young parents often said to me, “I can’t imagine how to parent a teen. I’m terrified.” And as a parent of teenagers, I could share what I had learned – “ They way you choose to handle every interaction, every challenge, how you work to stay close to your child even when you find them difficult will train you up to be the parent of a teenager.” Each decision we make, each time we reach out or clam up, each time we build up or drag down another, every time we soften or harden, listen or turn a deaf ear fashions us into the people we become.
I have come to see that in the Divine order of life, God never gives up on us. The same challenges may seem to re-occur over and over again and we may feel fed up or unloved because, darn it, here I am again putting on weight, or struggling with an addiction, or being tempted by such and such, or having to deal with the same kind of bully or victim or ??? . But over the years I have come to understand that the recurring challenges I face, might be, in fact, God saying, “Hey there, you still haven’t figured out this piece that’s holding you captive, holding you back. Here – I’m giving you another opportunity to turn towards me, to ask for my help, to receive my forgiveness, to be freed to go out and share the love that is always behind what challenges you face.” You make the decisions, I, God, am here to love you through it all.”
So, this Lent, are you willing to take the time to fast from the big things that keep you busy and start to focus on all the small choices you make that in fact, end up fashioning the life you live? Are you willing to consider how the small decisions you make take you into arid conditions? Are you willing to accept the challenges you’ve been given as an opportunity to grow into deeper relationship with the One who loves and wants you to be free?
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love so that we may face all the temptations and challenges in our lives with your Grace and Love. Amen.