Posted on Sun, Mar 5, 2017
March 5, 2017
1sth Sunday in Lent
Gospel Text: Matthew 4:1-11
The Temptation of Jesus
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4 But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ 7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Humans have all these images, metaphors, stories, songs or whatever all created to help us create some form of image of God in our mind to help us comprehend God. All throughout history, some of our greatest works of art are created to simply try to capture the magnificence of God, or some amazing aspect of God’s power and awe. It’s not surprising there are so many masterpieces created throughout history that use images of the Bible as their inspiration. For me, the definition of the word, “awesome,” (a much overused word, I believe) almost always has the aspect of God’s ‘beyond human understanding’ majesty. And then there is the concept of love, mercy and grace depicted in the words of scripture; it is not surprising there are the millions of touching pictures of Mother Mary and baby Jesus…
In my house, my mother had this little picture book that captured almost every major story in the Bible. I spent hours with that little book. I remember when I first saw the pictures artists created to capture the joy and wonder of the Magi or shepherds seeing baby Jesus, Thomas reaching and touching the fresh red scar in Jesus’ side, and the attempt at depicting the horrors of hell. I was that kid who would ride my bicycle all the way across town just to spend the afternoon hours in the library looking at all sorts of books on all topics. My favorite books in our house were the World Books my father bought for us. There was no Internet, but the library had more stories and pictures than I could take in, plus that was one of the few places with air-conditioning. But it was those amazing books trying to portray the amazing events described in the bible … what did Lot’s wife look like after she was turned into a pillar of salt??? The artist’s renditions are always the best. There actual salt pillars in on Mt. Sodom in Israel near the Dead Sea for the tourists to pay money just to look at… it’s not salt by the way, it is ‘halite,’ not very inspiring…
But as I was forced to attend Sunday school EVERY Sunday, my curiosity about the Bible Stores became insatiable. I couldn't get enough of images of Moses before the Pharaoh and parting the Red Sea, Noah and the Ark, the Tower of Babel, Elijah being taken up in the fiery chariot, Jesus feeding the multitudes, Jesus’ anguish on the cross, the heavy stone rolled away and of course the Ascension. Each of these scenes is portray a supernatural event in the best ways an artist can recreate them. They were huge, supernatural, only things God could do events! Not surprising my curious mind and very vivid imagination was drawn to these images.
But today’s text is more interesting because of its subtlety, and also it’s strategic location in our lectionary calendar. Sometimes we like to imagine our God doing only “Godlike things.” Maybe the idea of fasting for forty days and forty nights is one of those “beyond what humans can do” kind of things, but the concept of food, safety and dominion are all ideas humans can understand. When we only imagine God parting oceans, burning but not burning bushes, swallowing up offerings and the like, it makes it easier to ‘separate’ ourselves from God because we cannot realize any of these events… even on Myth-Busters. God is easier to handle if we know God is more like a computer graphic action figure, than a very personal human-being God that actually really does care about us, is interested in us and even listens to us.
The text is dramatic, and placed in a deserted and very inhospitable place. The actual place is the highland desert just over Jericho. It is rocky, filled with deep dangerous crevasses and very little vegetation and no water… unless if it rains, and only then the water will come raging down the valley, or wadi, only to destroy and wash away anything in the water’s path.
Even though Jesus has all the power of God, all the authority to destroy the devil, create food and drink with a word, the Gospel writer is more interested in communicating Jesus’ humanity than his divinity.
First of all, Matthew makes sure we know Jesus is in the desert 40 days after his baptism. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was in this terrible desert for 40 days, FOR OUR SAKE, not Jesus’ sake. The number “40” should send flags and sparklers going off in your bible story part of your mind right away. The number “40” whether days, months, years, is the scripture writers way of telling us the proper amount of time for God to teach something, or the people of God to “learn something.” Recall other times the number “40” came up in significant teaching times for God’s people:
Not surprising, after the allotted time of forty days, devil first goes for the most basic of human need, relieving the pain of hunger. I’ve walked in the place where Jesus was tempted, and believe me, we had enough water, and by noontime, we were enjoying figs at the “Temptation Restaurant” in Jericho!
Hunger, what are we to hunger for? Is it always our stomach that is hungry? Have we forgotten to listen to our heart, mind and soul when we hungry for that which is true, good, beautiful and meaningful? I think we are so used to having every apparent want, NOT NEED, satisfied with a click of a button, we have lost even the will to wonder and search out what God has to offer us.
The Gospel writers are helping us to understand Jesus’ HUMANITY, AND THERFORE, OUR GOD (IN ALL OF GOD’S AWESOMENESS) IS STILL TOTALLY PART OF THE WORLD, TOTALLY PART OF YOUR/OUR WORLD. When we journey through Lent, we take time to contemplate and take into the account of our humanity, and our bonds to time, suffering, brokenness and even moments of fear and doubt in our lives. At the beginning of Lent, we hear through the scriptures that our experiences, based out of our human situation, are just like the thoughts feelings and experiences of our Savior Jesus Christ. There will be many opportunities to be amazed at God’s awesome acts of wonder and grace later in the season, but now we are to see the humanness of our savior, allow this same Jesus we read about in the Temptation Story to walk alongside of us during this time. Amen
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