This morning’s Gospel reading was from Matthew 4.
I know that Jesus’s testing in the desert is intentionally chosen for the First Sunday of Lent, and it is very fitting. But though it is one of my favourite passages, most sermons I’ve heard on it have been variations on the same theme: the first temptation is Jesus relating to physical temptation/need, the second about showing off to win authority through miracles, the third about thirst for power. This morning, however, the sermon was different.
I’ll just have to rattle off the most interesting points, because I’ve been trying to write a coherent summary and keep failing. Sometimes sermons are put on the church website,
so if this one gets posted I’ll add a link later so here is the link: ‘How Jesus’ Temptations Relate to Our Own’.
- D. suggested that the figure in the background of Jesus’s time in the desert was Moses. Moses fasted twice in the wilderness for a span of forty days and nights, each time on the behalf of the people of Israel. There is then the suggestion that Jesus did not go out into the desert for his sake only, but also for the people who would follow him.
- The first temptation was not merely an issue of Christ experiencing physical hunger. Also at stake was the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reason; to lose sight of priorities. Physical needs should not trump the spiritual.
- The second temptation: almost always I have heard the test of whether Jesus would throw himself off the top of the temple to see if he would be caught by angels put in the context of winning followers by putting on a big show. ‘Think of how many people would see him, and see the angels! They’d have to believe him!’ Except that isn’t the only interpretation possible from Jesus’s response, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’. It could also mean, do not put God’s love for you to the test; do not demand that he prove himself to you. Faith and love require trust; instead, let us be confident in the certainty of God’s love. It is not right for us to demand more evidence — to leap off of buildings expecting him to catch us — when he has already given us so much. (D. also went on to point out that this can be said for human relationships as well…)
- For the third temptation, D. spoke not only of thirst for power, but also of the issue of timing. The kingdoms of this world already belonged to Christ — but not yet. His mission on earth was to the people of Israel; when he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, then he also held the keys to the kingdoms of the Gentiles. Again, the temptation here is one of priorities: do we focus on distant problems, on grandiose goals, instead of those much closer, those at home.
- Also, I appreciated how D. allowed for the testing of Christ to endure during the forty day period of his fasting. He suggested that it is all too easy to read the exchanges between Jesus and the devil as a repartee of scripture quotations. But Jesus hadn’t just been sitting around the desert doing nothing for forty days before the devil showed up. He was meditating with scripture, wrestling with it, probably Deuteronomy since all of his quotations came from that book. Jesus was human. It is good to have been offered the idea that he took some time between each suggestion of the devil before giving his response.
After lunch, my mother and I talked about the different churches we’ve gone to, particularly the size of the churches and how they did or did not encourage community. I made an observation, and I pose it here: What would it be like if churches didn’t let themselves grow larger than 100 or so members? If every time they reached that number, they split into two congregations, endlessly growing and dividing, like cells?