Read Matthew 4: 1 – 11 The Temptation of Jesus
At school, I was the one nobody picked to be on their team in games. I was uncoordinated and disinterested. Ultimately, I tried to be out in rounders, preferring to sit and watch than play. That became my identity – the one on the side-lines. I’ve worked hard to overcome it, but there are still times I’d happily be on the side-lines. I was, however, the listener, the one people would find and confide in.
Perhaps you were the sporty one, or the clever one, or the kind one, or the joker, or the sensible one – or the disruptive one!
Whatever it is, we all have an identity – one we give ourselves, or one that others give us. For some, for better or worse, their ‘identity’ sticks throughout their life: a blessing or a curse.
Our identities are shaped by many factors and some people will wrestle with the search for their identity more than others.
During his time in the wilderness, Jesus shared the human struggle for our ‘identity’. He was tempted by three different identities. With his God given power he could be a magician, a daredevil or a tyrant.
But he wrestled with and rejected them all, accepting instead the difficult option of bearing good news for the poor and dispossessed, an identity and message at odds with the powers and principalities of the world. A square peg in the round hole of religious practice.
His identity was forged through the prism of his living relationship with God. Nourished and equipped by his knowledge of (Hebrew) Scripture, he batted Satan’s tempting proposals out of the park.
I wonder, what challenges your God-given identity, and how do you respond?
Rejecting the temptation to collude with earthly power is easier if we are able to speak with confidence, as Jesus did, from a scriptural and experiential relationship with God that we are confident about and can draw on, just as Jesus was.
So, what do we need to do to be able to say that we live ‘not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’?
Perhaps a challenge for Lent, is to take something up rather than give something up – maybe some careful, thoughtful Bible reading, so that we too can challenge those voices that tempt us into self-interest and self-glorification.
We increasingly live in a world of opinion: But the world is changed for the better by our actions not our opinions. Jesus’ opinions were words backed up with action – inclusive generosity in an excluding political and religious administration.
This Lent, why not wrestle with the temptation to be worldly and embrace your God-given identity in your own, less risky, wilderness. Perhaps (if you don’t already) you could indulge in daily Bible reading. Why not join our Lent Bible Book Group (see below).
Knowledge of Scripture is key to meeting the challenge of embracing our God-given identity – however topsy turvy that identity might seem.
Like Jesus, we must choose which voices to listen to, and having a strong sense of our identity in Christ, and being mentally and spiritually nourished by Scripture and drenched in God’s love will equip us to choose wisely.
Knowledge of Scripture is in decline in western society. So, those of us who remember it and are prepared to study it have work to do. We have keys to unlock the good news about God, through all that Jesus said and did – and still does. The challenge is to pass on the message that we received. The job is entrusted to us to be witnesses to what God’s love can do for the world?
This Lent is as good a time as any to tend to the garden that we may have neglected. Now is the time to prepare the ground, to plant and prune for a better flourishing of life springing up in the wilderness of the world’s spiritual drought and thirst.
Revd Janine Atkinson