Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.” Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.” For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.” Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.” The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.
-Matthew 4: 1-11
As we begin with our first Sunday of Lent, one of the primary spiritual questions for us is that of temptation.
What tempts you?
Oftentimes in Lent we want to give up something as a way of taming our temptations. Chocolate is a perennial favorite. But as we dig deeper, what are our real temptations, the ones we are afraid to admit to each other? What sort of temptations do we have that are connected to power, control, a way of living or a way of escaping or twisting reality? Temptations that linger in the deep cracks of our souls, ones that come back and haunt us during different seasons of life, or perhaps when we are at our lowest?
I do not think it is a coincidence that the Devil arrives to test Jesus when he was in a depleted state. Physical, emotional or spiritual hunger can make us susceptible to offers of easy or quick fixes. Something that seems like the answer without much hard work or loss is always the preferred route isn’t it?
I also do not think it is a coincidence that the Devil shows up to tempt Jesus right when he is on the precipice of something new and in doing something full of risk. Those days of fasting and attending to the Spirit in the wilderness was for Jesus a time of interrogating his calling. He was fully human and fully divine – and I can imagine that his human side was probably having a bit of a fight or disagreement with his divine side during those 40 day and 40 nights. The human side was trying to find a way around the challenges that Jesus would face: training the disciples, speaking reforming/rebuking words to a religious and cultural community stuck in their ways, encountering and healing people who were so troubled nothing else could bring them relief and then finally a torture, death and resurrection. If you were on the precipice of that sort of a risk-filled adventure, wouldn’t you want to turn around? Wouldn’t you perhaps be struggling with your own sense of call? Might you be open to another way?
It seems to me that in the larger Church these days we are also on a precipice of some sort. And the lure is incredibly strong to not take the jump into off-the-map living. We can remember easier days. We can recall times of abundance and resonance. And yet, we know that it is in the far-off and uncharted territory that the Spirit lives and is inviting us. It is scary. It is hard and it is challenging. We like Jesus, are on that edge and struggling to find our sense of call, courage and nerve.
I invite you in these forty days of Lent to enter into the spiritual practice of preparing for or taking risks. Of stretching and seeing where the Spirit might take you. Be willing to say “no” to all that is holding you back and that is so enticing. Practice in this Lenten season saying “yes” to the unknown, the un-mapped territory, the places where Jesus is waiting to walk beside you. Blessings in this time…
Image: Follow me, Satan (Temptation of Jesus Christ) by Ilya Repin, 1844-1930.
Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is the Transitional Presbyter for Albany Presbytery. She’s fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of culture and faith communities and how these changes are pointing us to new points of God’s ongoing gift of resurrection. She can be reached at [email protected].
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