Lent 1C (for 2022)
What is it you want? And what kind of person do you want to be?
I once preached at a Baccalaureate service, and I wish I had used that opening. What is it you want? And what kind of person do you want to be? It would be a good lead for a sermon at a confirmation, too. Or for a confirmation class. But it doesn’t do us any harm either.
What do you want and what kind of person do you want to be are the questions Jesus faces when the Spirit leads him into the wilderness, where for forty days Jesus is tempted by the Devil.
We can think of the devil in a lot of ways, but for today let’s think of the devil as a force that’s trying to turn Jesus away from what he intends to live out. Jesus has just been baptized and he has not yet started his world-changing ministry. He has just heard that voice coming from heaven during his baptism assuring him that, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
It’s at this point, just before he begins his ministry, that Jesus must answer those questions. What is it that you really want? And what kind of person do you really intend to be? What does it mean to be the Son of God?
Here’s the thing about temptation – it often comes disguised as a friend, to help you get through a tough situation. What comes to test Jesus in the wilderness comes in the disguise of a friendly helper.
This is the voice that tries to turn Jesus away from God. “Hey, I’m just here to help you! I’m on your side! Really, we both just want what’s best for you.”
Luke tells us that after Jesus has been fasting for forty days in the wilderness, he’s famished. No doubt! Jesus came among us as human, in a human body, with the sufferings that human bodies are prone to. Of course he’s famished!
But Jesus is also fully divine. Fully human and fully divine. Jesus knows that. The devil knows that. And both of them know that Jesus has immense divine power.
In today’s reading we have this phrase that means something a little different in Greek than it sounds like in English. (Believe me, I’m referencing a pastor from whom I borrowed much of this sermon. I am not a Greek scholar.) The words the devil repeats to Jesus are, “If you are the Son of God…”
But the meaning in Greek is more like “If you are the Son of God . . . and we both KNOW that you ARE …!”
In other words, the devil is not doubting that Jesus is the Son of God. The devil is saying, “Hey, we BOTH know that you’re rree-e-e-ally special! So, Son of God, what are you doing putting up with that miserable human body, that growling, empty, physical stomach, when all you have to do, you know, is command this stone to become a nice, toasty warm loaf of nourishing whole-grain bread? You ARE the Son of God, after all . . .. You don’t have to suffer hunger pangs. Just a suggestion from your new friend in the wilderness. I’m only here to help!”
And just like that, here we are. What does Jesus really want? What kind of person does Jesus really want to be? The devil points out that “You have a mission. You have a purpose. You were e was HeHfilled with the Holy Spirit at your baptism – So what’s it going to be? Are you going to really play the pointless game of putting up with a human body and all the pain that comes with it? Why not just treat yourself out here in the middle of nowhere? Who’s gonna know? Who’s gonna care?”
And how does Jesus respond? He quotes God’s wisdom in scripture: “One does not live by bread alone.” In other words, Jesus says that some things are more important than personal comfort.
“Oh, darn,” says the devil. “That didn’t work. Hmm. But you know, Jesus, you’ve been alone in the wilderness for a good long time. Wouldn’t it be nice to get back to human society? And hey, here’s a thought, wouldn’t it be even nicer to RUN society? To be large and in charge? Make things go the way they ought to be?”
So Jesus’s would-be new friend promises him leadership. “Check these out,” says the friendly voice. “These are all the kingdoms in the world, and they are mine. I will give you all the goodies they have to offer, plus you can rule over them! You can be the boss! With your kind of power, you can make them into anything you want them to be -- and all you have to do is just quietly let me be your boss. Of course I’ll let you run the show. . .. Worship me, and it’s all yours,” says the friendly, generous devil.
What does Jesus really want? What kind of person does Jesus really want to be? What does it mean to be the Son of God?
Does Jesus want to control the way the world runs?
Have you ever wished you could control the way things go? How many times have I said, “Boy, if I ran the world, things would sure be different.” That’s the opportunity Jesus’s new pal is offering him.
It turns out once again that the kind of person Jesus really wants to be is God’s person. And again, Jesus responds with God’s wisdom through scripture. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.”
And right away, the friendly voice agrees. “Oh, silly me. Of course, of course! Hey, no argument here! You’re God’s son after all.”
And then, suddenly, Jesus finds himself looking down over the city of Jerusalem as the devil has whisked him up to the top of the Temple.
“So,” the devil says, “here we are . . . standing on top of God’s house, God’s temple in Jerusalem. And because, if you are the Son of God, . . . and my goodness, we BOTH know that you are, . . . let’s give God’s protection a test drive. Just take a leap off the top of God’s holy temple. I know scripture too, and it is written that God’s angels will rush to protect you. You’re special! You’ll drift down as gently as a feather on an angel’s wing. Go ahead. Try it!”
What does Jesus really want? What kind of person does Jesus really want to be?
As it turns out, Jesus really truly wants to be the Son of God. He really truly wants to be God’s person. Jesus holds fast to God’s way, even if it means he has to have a human body that grows tired and hungry. Even if it means not forcing people to obey his authority. Even if it means taking the leap of faith, rather than a heart-stopping literal leap off the top of the temple, even if it means taking a leap of faith to trust in God’s love and protection all the way to the cross and the grave.
And what about us? Where is our wilderness? Does each one of us have a different wilderness? What are we hungry for? What are we famished for? What do we wish we had control over? What assurance would we like to have so that we’d know for sure that God protects us?
What is it that we want? What kind of person do we want to be?
I think one temptation for us when we hear this gospel story is to think that it is only about Jesus. Jesus holds firm to his identity in God, in his calling and his mission. But that’s Jesus, we might say to ourselves. Jesus is Jesus. We are not Jesus. And of course that’s true. We’re not Jesus. We’re not saviors, though sometimes we might be tempted to think that we are.
But think about this. Like Jesus, we are called in our baptisms. God calls us, too, to mission and ministry, to live as God’s beloved children. We, too, are God’s people. We, too, are sent out into the wilderness of this world with the constant help and guidance of the Holy Spirit to equip us to follow Jesus.
It might have seemed like Jesus was all alone in the wilderness, and that the devil was the only “friend” to turn up. It might seem like that for us too, sometimes. But at all times and in all wildernesses, God is present. The world belongs to God, kingdoms and wildernesses alike.
We’re not Jesus, that’s for sure. But we’re not alone, either. Christ is our friend in the wilderness. He knows what it is to be hungry. He knows what it is to wish things were set right in all the kingdoms of the world. He knows what it is to have a body that can be hurt and even killed. Jesus fully and willingly shares these human experiences with us. Jesus was never alone and friendless in the wilderness. And neither, thanks be to God, are we.
We share with Jesus the water of baptism and God’s promise that we, too, are God’s beloved children. And Jesus freely shares himself with us, as the bread in the wilderness. Jesus is God’s person. And so are you. So are we all.