Temptation and Hope

Those Glory Moments
March 4, 2019
God calls you by name!
April 21, 2019

I want you to cast your minds back to the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness.

Luke writes about it in Ch. 4 and says after Jesus was baptised, he went into the wilderness for 40 days where he was tempted.

Do you remember the temptations by which Jesus was tested? The very temptations that are described, point to the things to which Jesus himself is vulnerable. And they included: Jesus’ concern and love for the poor and anger at the injustices of the world where people starve while others feast.  He was offered the ability to turn stones into bread to feed the world.

Jesus’ concern for the unjust structures and abuse of power over all God’s children around the world, meant he was offered all worldly authority to have power to ‘save’ it. The catch being it would be done within the existing worldly ways which meant violence, terror, death and destruction, more injustice and little mercy as these are the devil’s ways.

And finally, Jesus’ love for the temple in Jerusalem, with all it represented of learning, knowledge of God, care for God’s people and as a light for the world, showing the way to God, meant Jesus was taken to stand at the top of the temple in Jerusalem, symbolically the faith-filled centre of his world. There he was tempted to throw himself off so God could save him.  It would prove to everyone he was the Son of God, removing all arguments and opposition with undisputed proof! The pleasure of showing up the doubters and those who wished him ill…..

Through these temptations we see what was in Jesus’ heart.

Jesus’ response after 40 days in the wilderness was consistent and insistent; he said ‘no, no, and no!’ He was clear about his reasons. You cannot live by bread alone, you can serve only God, and trust only in God. This is his life’s desire and answer.

Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:

‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.’ (1Cor.10:13)

In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 13:31-35), once again we see temptation coming out of the wilderness.

The pharisees tell Jesus, ‘get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’. (Luke 13:31)

At this point in our Lenten journey, it is timely to think about our own temptations. How often in our hearts do we justify what we do, why and how, without truly looking to God?

I also wonder how often we speak to a God we’ve created in our own image. To ensure the answers we find are the answers we want to justify our decisions, words and actions.

How often do we say, I don’t have time to pray because I’m busy feeding the people? I don’t have time to speak of love to my enemy as I’m busy overturning the unjust systems and they are unworthy;  I can’t make it to church because of my family; I can’t say sorry to someone because they haven’t met my conditions; I can’t be generous on this occasion because someone might think I’m weak and take advantage and so on.

For Jesus, God’s love is so present and immanent in his life, we can see Jesus’ whole life is a full and complete sacrament for God.

In Latin, the root of the word sacrifice is ‘sacra’ and ‘facere’ – ‘to make holy’. It does not mean ‘to destroy’.  Living his life as a complete sacramental sacrifice meant he was walking spiritually and practically in only one direction, always towards God.

Being told Herod, who had killed his cousin John now wants to kill Jesus must have caused a moment of stillness. It was a reminder of the consequences for the way he lived his life, how he taught and invited others to join him.  There was always ever going to be only one ending for choosing God over everything.

Jesus’ response to the temptation to stop, change course, save himself was again consistent. He was doing God’s work.  He could no more stop and leave than he could stop believing in God.  He did not respond with fear.  His connection to God is so clear, even the threat from a predatory fox like Herod Antipas was ignored.

Our own understanding of what brings us undone in moments of profound choice are all here in this story: fear, cowardice, a desire to save ourselves and not be tested, a desire to be thought strong and good, alongside our actions and experiences of betrayal and guilt.    I’m sure you can see other reactions as you listen to your hearts in recalling your temptations and your responses.

Our deep-seated rejection of God in moments of temptation are profound. We disguise and hide from ourselves, the source of such rejection and the causes.

What are our fears that cause us to accept and live a tempted and distorted life pretending and persuaded that we are living as God desires and invites us?

Jesus’ words prompt us to remember what happens next.

‘I am casting our demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way…’

and Jesus points towards Jerusalem.   Jesus grief about Jerusalem is profound and is one of the most emotional declarations recorded in the Gospels.

‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing!’ (Luke 9:34)

Jesus’ love, spoken through the image of a mother hen is ignored. Jerusalem is unwilling to stop killing prophets and stoning the messengers.  This is one of those core characteristics of being human.

Jerusalem is not alone as a city or people, as all people, from all cultures, in all times, here, in Dunsborough, in Christchurch, and elsewhere where we find ways to reject the fullness of what God desires to give and we kill those whom we fear.

We also see Jerusalem is one of those places for Jesus, which sits at the centre of his being. It is his precious spiritual home.  Jerusalem is mentioned 90 times in Luke’s Gospel and Acts.

In Luke, Jesus goes to Jerusalem as a baby to be presented at the temple (2:21-38), as a 12 year-old boy he debates with teachers and priests in the temple (2:41-49), in his temptations, in the story of the transfiguration (9:31) and finally, as his final journey towards Jerusalem becomes explicit.

‘When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

Luke tells us Jesus travels from one town to the next, teaching, ‘as he made his way to Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:22).

While the journey is not direct, the direction never wavers. Jesus does not respond to the temptation to stop, or take up another career.

As a lament, the cry about Jerusalem serves as a prophesy of what is to come and a statement of past rejections, not of Jesus but of the God who sent him. As prophetic words, Jesus’ lament functions in the same way as Mary’s Magnificat, talking in the past about what is to happen in the future.  It recalls the love of God as mother seeking to protect and care and the experience of being rejected.

Sisters and brothers, we must not flinch or give way, we must not try to find excuses in our temptations. God’s love is always, eternally present. Jesus’ behaviour reminds us of our own calling and commitment to do God’s work in this world.  Living fully sacramental, sacrificial lives, making holy what God provides us in all our being.

We need to lean into what is ahead of us, not back out. Our ministries, our words, our lives and our work must not be silenced and we must resist the quieter, easier ways that allow us to slide out to a different appointment.  Our task is to do the work of the one who sent us, trusting in God always as did our brother Jesus.

And in the final words of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us, we who are faint of heart: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26). It recalls the song of thanksgiving sung at the joyful entry of the king and deliverer and let us remember, we are part of this hope-filled story too.

The Lord be with you.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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