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First Sunday in Lent February 17, 2013

When children reach a certain age, they want to do things themselves. Tie their shoes, choose their clothes, climb up the slide – you name it. The stage comes after the word “Mine” before everything. It’s mine. I don’t want to share it with you. It’s mine, Mom, you can’t have it. It’s mine in a proud voice over some new toy. Those developments are natural in children’s lives. They are separating from their parents and learning to form individual identities.

As we get older, we repeat the “I want to do it myself” and “mine” stages. Don’t drop me off at school; I’ll go with my friends. I want to choose what I’ll wear, whether you like it or not. No, I am not going to visit Aunt Rose and Uncle Robert. My time is mine to do what I’d like with it, and I want to stay home and play video games. More identity searching.

When I graduated from college, my father bought me a car, something that would be part of my identity. After driving several models, I wanted to buy the Datsun B210. I liked the way it looked and the way it drove. But my father said no. At that time, the Japanese were not making cars that would adequately hold large people, and my dad was 6 foot two and broad. The top of his head brushed the roof, and the seat just wasn't comfortable enough for him. I was so mad. I desperately wanted to have my own money so that I could buy the car I wanted and not have to put up with Dad’s opinion. By the way, I ended up with a light blue Pinto – the non-exploding gas tank variety – that I grew to like and hung onto for years.

Jesus’ first temptation is one that revolves around “mine”, around controlling his own future. He has all the power that God has, so the devil tempts him to turn a stone into bread. Jesus is famished after 40 days in the wilderness, so what would have been the harm? God has not provided him with any food, so why can’t he just do it himself? Why, we might ask, does the devil tempt him with such a little use of his power? But it is a big test of his identity as the Son of God. Jesus has already been called the Son of God at his birth, at his baptism and in the genealogy Luke places between his baptism and the temptations. The angel has said Jesus will save his people from their sins, but nothing has yet been said about how Jesus is going to do that. The devil’s first test is about Jesus’ mission and how he will go about it. Will he serve his own needs first or not?

Jesus responds with a quote from Deuteronomy (8:2-3) when Moses is talking to the people about how God helped them with manna in the wilderness. Moses tells them that they could not provide for themselves; it was God who did the providing. He tells them that humans do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It was not as important for the Israelites to get the bread as it was for them to understand who gave the bread (Beverly Gaventa). By refusing to change the stone into bread, Jesus signals that he will wait for God to meet his needs. He will choose trust and dependence on God instead of on himself, even though he has the power to do it, where the Israelites did not. Jesus does turn five loaves and two fish into food for 5,000 people during his ministry, but he is doing it for others and that is the difference. Jesus’ ministry will be done by serving others.

Next the devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world. He says he is in charge of all of them and can give them to anyone he wants. He will give them to Jesus if Jesus will worship him. Running kingdoms is something Jesus can clearly do better than anyone else. A benevolent king, the image of Israel’s thought about a Messiah, would surely make the whole world a better place to live. Jesus has the power to do this. We can understand this temptation too. Who of us has not wanted to have uninhibited power? We often say, “If I were king of the world, this or that thing would be done differently.” And they would be good things, things that helped people. We don’t have the power to be “king of the world”, but Jesus does. He is tempted to compromise God’s way for his own way, and again he says no. Another quote from Deuteronomy (6:13) states his position. “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Jesus’ messiahship was going to be one of obeying God’s wishes for the way Jesus would teach and preach about God’s kingdom on earth. People controlling other people had no place in this vision, where God reigned supreme and would provide for people’s needs.

The third test was an invitation to test God to prove that God would help him, that he really was the Son of God. This time the devil uses quotes from Psalm 91 to say that God would command his angels to protect Jesus. This temptation we can grasp as well. Who does not want to be saved from the trials and tribulations of life? Who does not want to promise God something if only God will save our job, our house, our child? I have been provided for by God in many ways, but my insecurity says, “What about the next time?” What if God doesn’t take care of me then”, and I look for ways to take care of myself that are not in line with God’s will for me. Unlike us, Jesus has the power to throw himself off of the temple and know the angels would save him, but he overcomes this temptation too. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6:16) Jesus life was going to be one that trusted completely in God’s love for him. Even during his passion and death, Jesus trusted that God would do something he did not understand to bring triumph out of tragedy for all of God’s people (Sharon H. Ringe).

After the three temptations, we know what Jesus’ messiahship will be like. Even though he has the power to do things to meet his own needs, he will not do that. During his ministry, he will be obedient to God. He will use God’s power to heal and save only when God gives him leave to do that. He will trust God to feed him, physically and spiritually. And God does. God provides hospitality for Jesus. God gives Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world when he is resurrected. God leads Jesus through his desert spots and out on the other side figuratively, as he did literally during his time of testing and made it possible for God not only to save Jesus but us as well.

If God did not exempt Jesus from temptation, why should we be any different? We are all subject to temptations to live not in kingdom ways but in the ways of the world. And we often succumb. We work hard to do things ourselves that God wants to do for us. We may not be able to be kings of the world, but we try to manipulate and control people to do what we want them to do. And we test God. “If you will do this for me, then I will do that”. We fall into idolatry by trusting not God, but things closer at hand – money, power, even human relationships – to save us. We are tempted when we are stressed and exhausted because we are at our weakest points. We haven’t followed God’s commandment to keep a balance between work time and Sabbath time (Frank Ramirez). But we are also tempted when things are going well. We are lulled into a false sense of security and begin to think that we don’t need God to provide for us – that we are doing just fine on our own.

The good news about our temptations is that God does not leave us alone in our deserts even when our time there may be long and difficult. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit in his desert times and so are we. The Holy Spirit cannot keep us from temptation but it can give us the power to resist it, if we will listen and depend on it. We also have the gift of the Scriptures, as Jesus did, so that we can remember God’s way and God’s hopes for us. And we have one another. Community is an important part of helping us see our own identities, who we are and where we are going as a disciple of Jesus.

Lent is a time when we face the fact that, though we have the same tools Jesus did to help us repel the devil’s advances, we often do not do so. We sin against God by taking the easier way that the world offers, instead of the kingdom way that God offers. Let us repent of our sins and pray for the courage we will need to be God’s people on earth.


   - Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p. 190
Sharon H. Ringe, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2, Exegetical Perspective, p. 49
Frank Ramirez, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” from Sermons on the Gospel Readings, Series III, Cycle C