Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Luke 4.1-13
I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘temptation’. Some of you may remember the advertising slogan dating from the eighties – naughty but nice - tempting us to indulge in highly calorific dairy products.
But that’s not what our gospel reading this morning is about. We always hear about the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness on the first Sunday of Lent.
The temptations come at the end of this long period in the desert. The first temptation plays on Jesus’ vulnerability after such a long time without food. Jesus knows and so does the devil that he is the Son of God. How will he respond to this suggestion that he uses his power to satisfy his own needs? In quoting words from Deuteronomy Jesus answers that there is more to life than simply material needs.
In the second temptation the devil suggests he has power and authority over the kingdoms of the world which he can give to anyone he wishes. Interesting, as God is the One who has power of all creation. But there’s a catch, Jesus must worship the devil. It sounds like bribery along the lines of ‘if you do this, you can have a treat’. He refuses and once again reminds the devil that God alone is to be worshipped, again quoting from Deuteronomy.
Finally the devil, now quoting from the psalms, dares Jesus to test God by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. After all God will save him from harm. Jesus refutes this, once again quoting from Deuteronomy.
In summary, Jesus is tempted to deny God and misuse his power as Son of God.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with power and authority. It depends how we use it. So often we misuse them to serve our own ends. There were plenty of examples of this throughout the world today. We have only to look at what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, with Russian tanks and troops advancing on Kyiv because President Putin sees the country as a threat.
We saw it when President Trump was in the White House; in his refusal to accept the election result, inciting violent protests.
We see it happening in this country, where the government shows a lack of compassion for those most in need; in the Church, where the reputation of the institution matters more than the pain and suffering of individuals abused by leaders in the church. We see it among those who force conversion therapy to ‘cure’ people who are LGBTQI+ which must be banned by law with no exceptions. We see it in the police force; in the workplace where people are bullied; in families where abuse takes place often behind closed doors. It happens in every walk of life.
Essentially people have given in to the temptation to misuse the authority they have over others.
How might this gospel passage help us on our Lenten pilgrimage this year? Certainly it prompt us to reflect on how we use any power or authority we might have, and that applies especially those in positions of leadership.
The prominence of the Holy Spirit in this passage and indeed throughout Luke’s gospel, struck me particularly. Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit following his baptism and is led by the Holy Spirit throughout his time in the desert. Immediately after this he begins his ministry in Nazareth in the synagogue where he reads from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. Jesus comments as he rolls up the scroll: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
So this Lent let us be guided by the Holy Spirit; let us listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. Let us set aside time to do this. It’s not always easy, but if we are attentive, God speaks to us and maybe in unexpected ways.
Our reading from Deuteronomy is about a journey. The people affirm God’s presence with them on their long journey from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. God has set them free, therefore they are to rejoice and be thankful.
So let us make this a joyful journey through Lent, making a point of noticing each day something we can be thankful for, however small it may be.
God of our pilgrimage, we pray that this Lent we may become more aware of your Holy Spirit, guiding us, challenging us, supporting us each day. Help us to see the wonders of your creation around us and be thankful; help us to be aware of the needs of others and prompt us to take action.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest