We are beginning the season of Lent today. During this time, many of us will test ourselves by giving up favorite things or taking on new practices that challenge us. We test ourselves against our temptations. I’m giving up cursing and 5 days in, it’s not going well.
Jesus is also entering a time of testing and temptation in today’s gospel. But let’s take a second to look at our first reading where Adam and Eve are tested and tempted. Please note, that although Eve speaks, both she and Adam are present so let’s stop blaming the woman for eating the fruit and ruining all humanity. Oh – and it’s not an apple that she eats – just some Mideastern fruit, like a date or a fig but it never says apple.
Then Jesus, who is still wet from his glorious baptism where God named and proclaimed him as his own beloved, is immediately shoved out into the harsh desert to starve and suffer for forty days. Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness so this test must have been necessary. After 40 days of suffering, he been pretty miserable when who shows up but Satan to tempt him.
We think of this gospel as the temptation of Jesus, but the Greek word used here is peirazō which translates as “test,” rather than tempt. The devil comes to test Jesus. And it seems that the core of this test is about the true identity of Jesus. Over and over, he starts his challenge with “IF you are the son of God…” Maybe the devil was present at the baptism of Jesus and heard God’s declaration that Jesus was his beloved son, so he wants to test that. You know, it seems like the whole of Jesus’ life, he is having to prove who he really is.
But this is the first real test and it’s a doozy. “IF you really are the Son of God then make these stones into delicious bread.” We know that Jesus will eventually, miraculously feed 5,000 people with loaves and fishes he conjures up from almost nothing, so he is quite capable of making bread. But Jesus comes back at Satan with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 : “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Coming at Satan with a quote from the Pentateuch, one of the essential Hebrew texts has got to play well in ancient Israel. Jesus boils it down to one thing: “I am not of this material world. I am of God.”
Satan then tests his faith by telling him to jump off the top of the temple. “IF you are the Son of God, he will have his angels keep you safe.” Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy, this time chapter 6, verse 16: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” He’s thinking; “You’re testing God and, indeed, you are testing ME. Stop it!”
But the devil again tests Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendors, saying to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” At this, Jesus loses his temper, shouting: “Away with you Satan!” He quotes Deuteronomy 6:13: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” He’s declaring again, as clearly as possible, that he belongs to God.
Then, my favorite part, Satan departs, and the angels come and wait on Jesus. I picture clouds of angels bringing champagne and wine. They hold bountiful platters of luscious food, fluttering about, murmuring “Good boy! Your father is so very proud of you!”
This idea – that this temptation/testing is all about Jesus firmly declaring that he is of God, not this world – this brings us to Lent. During Lent we test ourselves by encountering temptation to eat that forbidden chocolate or drink that gin we gave up. This practice is not about petty changes to our diets. Every time we desire that thing we gave up, we make a decision to be of God, not of this world. I’ve always liked Lent because it helps me to focus on God more. I know that Lent is not just about deprivation – one memorable Lent, I started the practice of a daily walking meditation. I’d just pray while I walked. It was a good Lent.
Like Jesus, we are also chosen to be God’s own beloved children. Throughout our days we make tiny choices that declare our allegiance to God… or not. Choosing to post something nasty on social media, choosing to cut off that stupid driver, or choosing to be kind, letting someone go in front of you in line; these are ways we follow God.
Please use these forty days of Lent to make your own declaration. Christ answered the devil’s tests by declaring his allegiance to his father. Can we do the same? Can we use this time to declare that we belong to God?