On this the first Sunday of Lent, traditionally we reflect on the “Temptations” of Jesus – his confrontation with the devil. The devil offers short-cuts for Jesus, magic up some food – why go hungry? The offer of all the kingdoms of the world (if you just worship the devil – that is change side completely); do great feats of showmanship both to prove to yourself and presumably to others. At this point Jesus point-blank says “don’t test God – and the implication is that we accept the mystery of God.
In a world where we see power apparently triumphing, where war has come again to Europe, (though it has ravaged Asia and Africa for decades) this description of the confrontation that Jesus faced both on this occasion but as Luke astutely points out it would come back – “If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross and save yourself” – this episode is so important for us.
We want Jesus to step in and demonstrate his power – show he is more powerful than the Romans or the Russians or whoever. We want the problem solved and sorted, and the devil’s preference for force is ok. Crush the enemy! We want a miracle-working Super-hero God for a time like this. We don’t want a Jesus-asleep-in-a-boat God.
And for Jesus the offer of these short-cuts would save him hunger, opposition and crucifixion. The devil claimed he could give him the kingdoms of the world – but note, not the Kingdom of God.
And we struggle sometimes with the idea of a devil or the devil. The Bible is very sparing in what it says. What we glimpse is a real power, at work, even able to control the world, but utterly antagonistic to the way of God’s love. Elsewhere Paul will talk of powers and principalities; some might note the negative destructive energy which is in all of us, and can overrun us, as well as the awful power of a mob or a group or a nation set on a way of aggression, where other human beings are of no worth – where the death of others is a small thing compared to the acquisition of the land or the power or ..
When we see ruthless invasions, when we hear of brutal dictators, when we know that the rich are more concerned to keep their wealth than help the needy, then we get some sense of evil – it is the opposite of God’s path, but it is also found in those who pass by on the other side, who are apathetic for change because it might cost us, who have become so compromised that we have lost sight of right and wrong.
Thank God that Jesus confronted this challenge and chose the way of the Cross that leads to God’s Kingdom, not the way of power and imposition. Which way do we choose?
Rev’d Peter Reiss