Lent is here (Luke 4, vv1-13)
Today if someone is making a television documentary in the middle of nowhere you know that if the camera turned around you would see several trucks full of equipment and support, with no danger of getting lost or forsaken! But Jesus was alone. An honest reader will immediately ask: how does this story come to us? It must be something Jesus himself spoke about to his disciples to make the point that these temptations come our way, too, when we seek to follow him.
We are entering the season of Lent, reminding us of the temptations facing Jesus and us. Not just resisting that extra Malteser! Apparently Jesus faces three temptations. Yet really there is only one which comes to Jesus in three ways. We face it too. Putting it bluntly, do we really trust God to see us through? Wouldn’t it be better to have some real (earthly) power? We are being asked to trust God’s method and God’s love.
The first temptation is to rely on things. Material things are symbolised by the prospect of bread for a hungry man in the wilderness. There’s a great deal in Jesus’ teaching about the danger of relying on possessions, as if what you have determines what you are.
The second temptation is the same one, exaggerated for greater effect. Imagine you were able to meet every human need, not just bread but all the other things. We all wish we could ‘make it happen’, when we are frustrated or angry at the mess people make. It’s a hard lesson, but the kingdom of God is not won that way.
Which leads to the third aspect of Jesus’ temptation, one which is also not unknown in our time. Do something really dramatic, even unbelievable, and people will follow you. Celebrity is a tremendous power in today’s world of social media. It can be used for better or worse – but it cannot bring in God’s kingdom if it lacks love.
Three forms of power tempted Jesus in this story and still tempt us today. The power of possessions, the power of politics, the power of personality. Jesus turned away from such power and, as he foresaw, as a result ended up in the most powerless situation possible, nailed on a cross to die.
The love which Jesus embodies and which is in itself the very life of God, this love may be power-less in human terms. And yet it will mean that whatever we face he faces too with us. Always Emmanuel, God by our side. Try that through Lent – and, of course, beyond.
Revd Peter Brain