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Lent 1A

26 Feb 2023

Matthew 4:1-11

Fear. All this talk about temptation is at its core a way to get to us through our fears. The devil, Satan, or the evil trickster (whatever you choose to call them) is trying to play on Jesus’ fear. He is doing so as an agent appointed by God to test Jesus.

Deep at its core, the story of the trickster snake or the tempter or the devil or Satan (whatever we choose to call him) and Jesus is about dealing with our own fears and our desire for comfort, security, and prestige. The snake quotes scripture in telling Jesus that, as hungry as he is, he could make bread from stones and feed himself. Afterall, did not God make manna to feed the Israelites? And here was Jesus, pretty hungry. Satan says, “You know who you are; why not go ahead and make yourself some bread and feed yourself? You do not need God; you have the power and the ability.” Scarcity is a fear; we all need bread to stay alive. Why not use power to make or take the bread? Jesus is, remarkedly, not concerned. Afterall, did not God lead the Israelites in the wilderness to teach them, to give them the bread that does not perish. God also did give them the bread they needed for their bodies. Jesus tells the trickster that God is indeed the source of all good things and even bread comes from the grace of God. Keep God at the center of your life.

Where do you turn for your bread? Do you count on yourself; do you look to leaders who promise you cheap bread (at the cost of underpaid workers who may risk their own health and wellbeing for your bread) or do you look to what God says, what Jesus says about bread: the way of the Kingdom of God is the way where the entire community benefits and gives thanks to God. It is love that provides for all. Mana from heaven is not a another term for winning the lottery.

The trickster tells Jesus he knows God will not let him die if he jumps off a building. Dramatic rescue. I am reminded of the story of the person stranded on an island who turned down would be rescuers while he waited for God to directly come and save him. Perhaps it more like the rhetoric that comes from the mouths of despots: I can save you from (fill in the blank with: immigrants, Chinese, Muslims, gays, Blacks) destroying you. The power brokers are well served; our fears are being catered to and we feel safe, but this is not the way of Jesus. Do not put God to the test by taking what seems like the easy route, the route of public spectacle and cheap solutions. Trust in God and do not test God. We know the way Jesus leads us is a difficult one. It seems so much easier to look for scapegoats and simple solutions, but Jesus, whose miracles did not bring him power but rather demonstrated what the Realm of God is like, would have none of that.

We fear not being in control. If we have power, political, social, financial, we will be in control, or so we think. The trickster offers Jesus a really sweet deal, one in which he is in control of all the resources, while those underneath scrape by. “The spotlight will be on you; you will be famous,” he says. Sounds like most of the empires and governments since time immemorial. Jesus is, unlike most of us, fearless. He does not succumb to the temptation to take the reins of power. The reality is he would still answer to Satan. Power of that sort, while not an illusion, is never permanent and is always antithetical to the Realm of God. Jesus chooses a glory that goes first to the cross.

We don’t look at the Ten Commandments as a list of “do’s and don’ts’s, but rather as a blueprint for how we should live in the world and be in right relationship with God and with one another. Living fully into our humanness and our place in the world is to learn to live in relationship. Lent is the opportunity to do just that. As we in the northern hemisphere see more light each day, our lives become filled with more light. My hens have been restless lately; one started flying over the fence to feed in the yard. The rest followed her. They have started to lay eggs again. They know what to do with the light.

It is harder for us; humans tend to complicate things. Mountains from molehills, or in the worst case we snag defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here are three questions for Lent: who do you trust to nourish you; who do you trust to love and care for you; and who do you trust with your service?

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

I don’t know how you see your own journey, but sometimes I see mine as a path that winds this way and that and sometimes I have to decide which way to go. I don’t know where the path is going, or even if it has an end. I think the path is as long as my life. As I walk the path this Lent, I will ask myself who I trust, especially who I trust with my service.

Together let us travel the path of Lent, trusting in God.

For a more detailed essay of the themes and questions raised, I encourage you to read the blog entry for 1 Lent from the Salt Project.

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