St. Philip Lutheran Church
6 March 2022 + Lent 1c
Rev. Josh Evans
Don’t tempt me. Written on a page, those words can hold a plethora of meanings. The key, of course, is in the tone.
The server comes to your table: “Here’s our dessert menu!” “Don’t tempt me,” you chime back, knowing full well once you see the chocolate mousse or key lime pie, you will order it.
The exasperated parent tries to get their kid to do a simple chore: “Can you please clean your room now?” “Don’t tempt me,” they mutter under their breath, while at the same time pondering what prized toy or privilege they can take away for a week if they have to ask again.
We are tempted by many things – some as innocuous as dessert, but others more damaging…
It’s tempting to only listen to the voices who agree with us, to stay in our own protective echo chambers, where no one challenges us, where we don’t have to question what we believe or why … instead of opening ourselves up to a potentially more expansive viewpoint.
It’s tempting to think it’s all up to us. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. If it doesn’t happen my way, it’s not “right.” In those moments, it’s also tempting to be extraordinarily hard on ourselves. We’re our own worst critics, the saying goes.
It’s tempting to want to hoard: resources, money, power. It’s tempting to buy into a scarcity mindset that we don’t have enough, that there will never be enough. And so we never dream beyond our present circumstances of what might be.
We are indeed tempted by many things. So much turns us in ourselves – our own stubbornness that our opinions are the truth, our own determination that our way is the “right” way, our own self-centeredness that our needs are more important than everyone else’s.
It’s tempting to read this gospel text and imagine that Jesus so easily and nobly cast aside every temptation that the devil hurled at him. To hold up this story as some kind of didactic proof-text that only makes us feel bad about ourselves for falling short of some impossible ideal.
I’ve never been in a place of food insecurity, wondering where my next meal would come from. I have intentionally fasted – which is very different, because, of course, it’s a choice I can end at any time. I have also gone a full day where I’ve somehow “forgotten” to eat because I’m not a breakfast person and it’s all too easy for me to work through lunch and even dinner and stay late in the office to finish up a project.
But the effect is similar: It’s hard to focus on much else when you’re hungry. Hunger diminishes our ability to concentrate and to think, and it makes us irritable. Hunger affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Jesus was hungry – and the devil knew what hunger does to a person. How excruciatingly tempting it must’ve been: “But no one would ever know… it’s just one loaf of bread…”
It’s also nice to be in charge. To have power. To be the one making decisions. To know what will happen next and how.
In the desert, Jesus wasn’t in control. He was hungry. And lost. Long before he called any disciples and had his “people” … long before his reputation preceded him and the crowds pushed in on him with excitement and anticipation … long before all of that, Jesus almost assuredly caved to self-doubt, questioning his calling and his mission. There has to be another, easier way – and the devil capitalized on that too: “Here’s another way…”
And we long to feel cared for. To know God is with us. To know, in the end, that everything will be alright. That’s the cornerstone of our faith, isn’t it? Immanuel, “God-with-us.” As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. “Remember, I am with you always,” Jesus promised.
Four years ago, on February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday, of all days – an armed shooter walked into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others.
Four years later, “What is different?” one pastor asks in the opening of her commentary on this gospel text, calling to mind the tragic events in Parkland. “I doubt my 3 year old daughter and 10 year old son will know a world without violence, divisiveness, homophobia, sexism, racism, classism and the countless other ‘-isms’ that plague us.” (Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia)
What is different? As soon as we leave one tragedy, the next is never far behind. Sometimes, they even overlap.
In two years, the pandemic has claimed 6 million deaths worldwide.
As of this past Monday, the United Nations has recorded at least 752 civilian casualties so far across Ukraine, with 227 killed and 525 injured, including scores of children – and counting.
The temptation targeting our vulnerability and our fears of being left alone in the midst of it all might be the most relatable temptation Jesus faced.
Physically hungry, emotionally worn out, and questioning his call, I imagine Jesus drew on the words of Psalm 22 long before he cried out those words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In the desert – hungry, exhausted, alone – the temptation to put God to the test had to be an alluring one: “If you are with me, then prove it!” (Please…)
The temptation is a relatable one – calling to mind the times when God’s presence doesn’t feel so certain … when we question God’s ability to care for us or even God’s existence. Like Martha and Mary at the tomb of Lazarus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
I don’t imagine for a second that Jesus so easily and nobly cast aside every temptation that the devil hurled at him.
In fact, I imagine there were more than just three temptations. Forty days in the desert is a long time.
Jesus was tempted. Jesus struggled. Jesus contended with his own worst fears and vulnerabilities.
Jesus has been there too.
And before he went into the desert, Jesus didn’t go without the promise and the blessing given to him at his baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved!”
In the desert, amid unrelenting temptations, Jesus clung to his belovedness.
Jesus clung to the belovedness that was his in his baptism, the belovedness that compelled him into – not away from – the desert places, the places of pain and suffering and brokenness he would encounter in the course of his ministry, with the good news of God’s reign for them.
The key is in the tone:
Don’t tempt me.
Not today, Satan.
Ours is a belovedness that does not, cannot, will not let go. Not even in the desert.