We’ve come to expect that the 1st Sunday in Lent will bring us the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Just after his baptism, before his ministry begins, and when Jesus was essentially a young adult — immediately he’s forced into making critical choices. Saying no to temptation and remaining faithfully God’s son.
How stark the difference between Jesus’ experience — read Matthew 4:1-11 to see for yourself — and our own. He was being tempted with the basic necessity of food. Tempted to use his power to prove that God exists. Jesus hungry and alone with the devil as his only companion. And us? What tempts us? We have instant accessibility to most everything and the only rule of the day is over-indulgence!
The contrast is painful to admit. We ought to be red-faced and uncomfortable and squirming because God nailed us this time. God got us and but good. Just as surely as Jesus was the shining star of resisting temptation, we excel at giving in to it.
The story from Matthew tugs at our senses. We don’t need to be biblical scholars to get that Jesus’ hunger was real. We don’t need more than a single reading to notice that the temptations progress not just in height (from the ground to the mountaintop) but also in intensity and scope. The first is a basic need for food and then the circle widens and the third one tries to take on the world. We live that progression, don’t we? Whether it’s from taking that first drink or telling that first lie or cheating just this one time on a partner or spending that first dollar we didn’t really have. Unlike Jesus, we don’t say no the first time and before we know it the yesses are coming all too quickly and easily. And yet, with all those yesses, we’re still left starving.
Starving for purpose and meaning, love and wholeness. For the feeling of enough. For realistic expectations. We’re starving to be known for who we are rather than for what we have or don’t have. We long for the stamp of hope for who we can be, rather than marked permanently for who we’ve been and what we have done. The good news is we can find that purpose and meaning and love and wholeness if we look to Jesus and learn from him. He absolutely and steadfastly refused to give in to someone elses notion of who he was supposed to be. He was a broken record of refusal to be anything but God’s son. He used his power to stick to his single purpose which was to be obedient to God.
We are God’s children too. And with Jesus as our savior and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we have been given strength enough for that single purpose too. I hope you’ll journey through Lent with me working to figure out how to keep from giving in to all that we think will fill the void, when the only thing that will fill that void is God.