Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4: 1-13, Mark 1:9-15
The suggested Bible readings for the first Sunday in Lent are always about Jesus encountering the devil in the wilderness. This is the perfect theme for this second post of my Lenten series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.”
Jesus has just been baptized. He has received an extraordinary experience of the Holy Spirit and a profound blessing and calling by God. Now Jesus has retreated into the wilderness to fast and pray. Creation is the context in which the devil appears to Jesus, who is faced with temptations. These are not just what we might consider “ordinary” temptations, but vocational temptations that force Jesus (or anyone who follows him) to deeply consider what it means to be a beloved child of God.
What is ultimately life-giving, and how will I share that with others? What does it mean to put my whole trust in God without recklessly taking God for granted? Is my loyalty to God strong enough to withstand the allurements offered by “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matthew 4:8)? According to Luke, the devil put this last temptation to Jesus very aggressively. After showing him “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment in time,” he said, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority: for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please” (Luke 4:6).
After Jesus met these challenges with scripture, he began his public ministry. His initial struggle with the devil in the wilderness informed his future choices and set the stage for his crucifixion. The way he lived out his calling, fully committed to the reign of God, is what got him into trouble with the governing authorities of his day.
As followers of Jesus, these very questions, these temptations, also confront us. Creation is a good context for soul searching for us, too. It is harder now for us to find wilderness or to take off for forty days at a stretch. But perhaps we can carve out some time to at least step outside, to take a walk, to visit a park, to look up through a window at the moon and stars, or even to enter imaginatively into creation in prayer. This enables us to get grounded in who we are as created beings. For yes, we are beloved children of God, but we are also part of God’s (beloved) interconnected community of life. According to Mark, Jesus was not just alone in the wilderness, but “with the wild beasts.”
Those of us who live privileged lives in this technological society, many of us alienated from creation, are beset by “ordinary” temptations daily. Choices seem endless, but with the vast array of “tempting” choices, a sense of freedom can be elusive. Instead, many of us feel trapped. The larger vocations questions also confront us: Who are we as children of God (and children of the earth)? Where do we put our loyalty and trust, in the benefits offered to us by cultural accommodation to the institutional powers that dominate the world today (the kingdoms of the world and their splendor), or in God? These questions are worth reflecting on during this season of Lent.
This is the second post in a Lenten Series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.” The other posts in the series will be linked here as they are published.
1. Creation, Cross, and The Powers.
2. Extraordinary Temptations
3. The Spirituality of an Epoch
4. Creation: Moving from Awe to Lament to Resistance
5. Banking on Our Future as Demythologized Exorcism
For other blog posts by Sharon on the story of Jesus in the Wilderness, see Jesus, Temptation, and Worldly Power and Resisting Cultural Possession.
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