Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
In the name of the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit. AmenSo, there we have Jesus in the wilderness from our gospel today, in great hunger, refusing the temptation of bread when offered great authority and glory. Refusing the temptation to deflect worship and service from God, and when offered the opportunity to take things into his own hands, refusing the temptation associated with the power he had from God
In our Lenten series looking at the Lord’s prayer, we are going to think about temptation too, particularly in line with the Lord’s prayer phrase – Lead us not into temptation!
So how good are we at resisting temptation? Temptation comes in all shapes and sizes:-
Food of every kind, colour and dimension.
Drink of a variety of kinds.
Drugs we should not take.
Other Addictions (with an 18 certificate!) – computer games, television, sex, self-harming, obsessive/compulsive stuff.
Then there is
Idolatry – worshipping and serving other things before God.
Sports people and teams, political allegiances, celebrities.
Even keeping fit ourselves can become an idol.
Grabbing power and control for ourselves is another temptation.
Putting our needs over and above the needs of anyone else or the common good is also up there!
Another really prevalent temptation is to believe we can be self-sufficient, when God has designed us to live in loving relationship with him and in community, loving and supporting each other.
In a way we would seem to have far more distractions and temptations in our modern era, than the folk of Jesus day, particularly in the communication and technology arena. There is not much doubt that many are also pretty addicted to their mobile phones and other gadgets and living in a virtual world not the real world. The pandemic has not helped us with this!
Temptation is a fact of our lives. It is not that something is possible that matters but whether it is something we should actually do that matters. There are times when we need to look at our lives and reflect on where we are going and what choices we are making.
A few years ago I acquired a Lord’s prayer picture book, it contains coloured pictures drawn by Richard Jesse Watson with hidden depths in them. There is a picture for each phrase of the Lord’s prayer. All the human characters in the pictures are children as we are all children of God. The image for temptation is a small boy looking in the mirror. Perhaps that is what the little boy was doing in the picture – trying to weigh up the right choice or reflect as he looked at his reflection in the mirror on something that perhaps wasn’t doing him any good. (I think the candle is more about deliver us from evil but that’s a talk for another day)
We need to be careful of our language in relation to temptation. The question “what is your guilty pleasure?” these days is wrapping up something we know is wrong but we still give into because of its lure.
Let’s take a moment to contrast us with Jesus’ example in our gospel this morning. Jesus entered his wilderness times full of the Spirit and the Spirit helped him withstand the temptations he encountered. If we are open to that Spirit too in our hearts and lives, it will help us do battle with our temptations too and even whether we describe them as guilty pleasures or not.
If we think abit deeper about what happened here, this series of tests follows Jesus’ baptism where God’s love for him is powerfully revealed. It is at the start of his ministry and he goes away to reflect on what his mission will be like. The devil’s temptations point Jesus towards his need to trust God and resist the urge to win people over through power and show. Jesus’ experience here is the model for our practice of Lent. Done prayerfully Lent is a sort of wilderness experience where we look again at our lives and reflect on where we are going. In Lent, we take the time to choose to do this and this discipline will help us. Actually addressing our temptations can be a difficult place for us whatever, where the voice of our conscience and that of our shadow side collide. These light and dark sides to our lives occur because we are human.
In Lent, to push ourselves towards the light, we concentrate on our spiritual development. This inevitably reminds us that ‘we don’t live on bread alone’, but that we need to feed the spiritual side of our lives, which in turn will make us more aware of the needs of others and the need to respond with God’s generous love in all aspects of our life. Increasing the Spirit’s influence will also help us to move away from habits and addictions that are taking as in directions that are not good for us. We particularly need to focus on areas where we seek to be served and not to serve and areas where we are struggling with power and control. Either using the power we have inappropriately or trying to control things to our own ends. From all of this it is clear that resisting temptation conversely can be one of the things that can strengthen our resolve.
An alternative translation is And do not bring us to the time of trial. The reason for the dilemma in translation here is in the wording, particularly what is meant by the greek word peirasmos, which can be rendered as “temptation” or “testing”. One of my Biblical interpretation sources shared this useful thought. The best explanation of this phrase is that of human frailty, the frailty that Jesus points to in Mark 14:38 in the words “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (there Jesus recommends, in words similar to the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, prayer that we might not be buffeted by trial or trials).
Therefore we are to think here of what might buffet us and create a pressure upon our loyalty to God that in our frailty we might not be able to withstand. The commentary ends with a rather sobering thought that we will come back to on Maundy Thursday – It says A good example might be the kind of pressure that faced Jesus in Gethsemane as he contemplated his own imminent suffering.
Whether this is testing, the time of trial or temptation – we do all know what our own particular issues are and the areas of our lives where we are most fallible and frail! We also need to be honest with ourselves and with God and where necessary strengthen our resolve to do better.
I was very struck by some challenging words from Joanna Collicut’s on this topic and this is where I am going to finish today: –
In our relationship with God – We also need to be careful of prayer – even that can be a kind of idolatry. For if we are not careful – even in our prayer can end up using words of control and treat God as an object that can be controlled by our words. We need to be very wary of prescriptive prayer telling God what to do. My experience is that we cannot control God and worse our attempts to do so will limit us and more importantly God’s power in our lives. Amen
The word biblical commentary Luke 1:1-9:20 – John Nolland et al, Joanna Collicutt – When you pray (edition 1) BRF Lent book
New Revised Standard Version (Anglican Edition) copyright 1989 and 1995.