Last Sunday I preached from the Bishops pastoral letter to the diocese which can be found here
I topped and tailed it and tried to encourage people to assess their own lives, like the diocese is doing this Lent, and to think about how we can be the people of God. Below is an extended reflection on the gospel reading from St Luke and what Lent means.
What is Lent about?
I’m starting to get a little tired of being asked what I’ve given up for Lent. I don’t remember being asked so much last year, the idea of giving something up for the sake of it does not make sense. If we take our example from Jesus for these 40 days of Lent then we need to think more deeply about what and why we are doing during this season.
Jesus did not enter the wilderness on a whim. The word used in the gospel is tempt, but the scriptural word also means test. When something is tested it is either found acceptable or unacceptable, up to the job or not. If we think back to the scriptures we find many references to being tested with refiners fire, making something pure, getting rid of all the nasties and impurities, and making something fit for purpose. And for me this is what Lent is about, making us pure, taking us back to who we truly are.
This is also what I think about the temptations Satan put towards Jesus, each of them would have been less than his true self.
We know that Jesus can do great things with food, just look at the feeding of the 5000, or the feeding of the 4000, and we know that he could have turned the stone into bread, but to do so would have been only for his own benefit. It would have been a purely selfish act and when we value ourselves above everyone else, true temptation arises.
It’s so easy to fall into this trap, thinking that it is all about ourselves, that is what our society encourages. We are privileged consumers, focused on our own wants and desires. And for most of us in the UK we have a free choice in most things. We are brought up and conditioned to believe that we are the most important, it’s all about me, because I’m worth it!
Jesus reminds us that there are more important things. We do not live by bread alone, there are more important things then the desires of the flesh, and temptation of the body, there are more important things then gratifying our own desires, then the self. We live in communities, we share our lives with others, and we need to be reminded that it is not about me, it is about us, all of us.
So Jesus stayed true to himself but next Satan tempts him with power, a temptation that trips so many up in the modern world. Jesus is offered the easy route, all gain by ruling the world, and no pain, except that he would be enthralled to Satan and become very much less then himself.
Jesus comes back stating that all worship belongs to God and anything else is meaningless and worthless. In worship we state our priorities, that God comes first. Jesus will later show all people how Gods will and power is made perfect in weakness, especially on the cross. Strength in weakness is something Satan can’t understand, but we know how God works.
Finally Jesus is told to put God to the test, to make God prove his love. “Jump! God’s angels will catch you, if you are the son of God”
Now this is a temptation that we are all guilty of from time to time, testing God. Despite all the evidence, we find it hard to believe that we are loved and worthy of the salvation offered to us. We doubt the offering on the cross, once for all, and struggle with the grace from our God, who loves us so much, he shared our life and death in human form. Satan wants Jesus to put God to the test, to prove that there is nothing God won’t do. Once again, because we are worth it!
Except that Jesus is the proof of Gods love. And we do not need to test God because he has already proven his love and care for us by the sacrifice of the cross. If Jesus were to accept this temptation, he would becoming less then his true self. Jesus is the proof, not the needy recipient.
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
In declaring this commandment, Jesus is sending Satan a message as well, do not tempt God, do not tempt God in human form, Christ.
Temptations appear attractive, and often lead us to believe that good will come out of them, but actually they put us on the road to nowhere, and they take us away from our true selves. Each of these temptations tries to take Jesus away from his true nature. And it is the same for us, when we are tempted, we are moving away from our true self.
Temptations show us our flaws and our weaknesses, and Lent is a time when we are invited to assess our lives, the whole of our lives, and consider who we are, and who God has called us to be. It’s much more then just giving up chocolate!!! We all have parts of our life that we acknowledge are unhealthy and not worthy of us, and Lent is a time when we enter our own wilderness, and face our temptations head on, of seeing the worst parts of us in the clear light of day. It’s a time of change, a time of growth, a time of reconnecting with God and his vision for us. Lent is a time of focus, and prayer, a time to strip away those luxuries we rely on and those masks we hide behind, and return to depending on God.
Lent is about coming back to who we really are.
Who are you?