The temptation of Jesus. This story comes around each year on the first Sunday of Lent- the story of Jesus’ encounter with the devil and his struggle with temptation. I have preached on this story many times, for instance, in “Struggling in the Wilderness of Our Souls.”
This story is about identity, authenticity, discernment, resistance, and surrender. There’s so much here: Jesus’ struggle with what it meant to be true to his calling as one who is beloved of God; his forty days of self-denial in the wilderness, which our journey through Lent parallels; his resistance to the temptations that seduce us into being less than who we really are.
This story also shows “the devil” (figuratively speaking) as the power behind “all the kingdoms” of the world. We may think that our “kingdom,” the United States of America, is an exception, but it is not. Of course, there are many good things about this country, but we fall far short of our stated ideals of democracy and justice for all. Our government is the primary promoter of unrestrained free-market capitalism, which is causing poverty, inequity, and environmental devastation here at home and on a global scale. This global economic system is dominated by corporations and is enforced by militarized police forces and by the most powerful military-industrial complex the world has ever seen. (For more on this subject read “A System of Global Domination,” an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)
In his book The Word Before the Powers, Charles Campbell tells the story like this: “All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations. Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a `Star Wars’ missile defense system [or a drone warfare program]. All the kingdoms can be yours–if you will just use the world’s means of power: domination and violence.”
We may not think that this applies to us, especially if we do not use domination and violence in our interpersonal relationships. But as members of a society propped up by domination and violence, we are complicit. Our temptation is to go along with the current state of affairs, to ignore the violence that props up our way of life, to accept the worldly benefits that come with our consent to the destructiveness of the current system.
But the cost is too high! The cost is our ability to discern right from wrong and to take right action. If we fall for this temptation, we become servants of the State, complicit in harming ourselves and others. By so doing, we turn our backs on our identity as God’s beloved children and on God’s intention for our lives.
Lent, for me, is a journey with Jesus through this process of discernment. It is a struggle with the temptation to be less than I am called to be, spiritual resistance to the patterns of thought and action that keep me bound, and surrender to the Love at the heart of the universe, the ground of our being.