Sunday, 13 March 2011
Lent 1 Temptation and wilderness
Lent is named from the Anglo Saxon, Lenten meaning lengthening of days when in the first three centuries of the church a few days were set aside for strict fasting. By the 4th century the preparation time had developed to 40 days, like the 40 days of the Exodus. Lent was seen as a time of personal preparation and also a time of preparation for those receiving baptism on Easter Sunday. In the Roman Catholic Church fasting is still encouraged on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. In the Eastern Orthodox Church not eating eggs, meat and fish is still common, which is why painted eggs are given out on Easter Sunday.The Lenten colour is purple and unbleached fabric and in some churches there are no flowers during Lent and all the crosses are covered.
Jesus was led (a divine passive), by the Spirit in the desert as Israel was led all those years before. He was tempted, the present tense indicates that the testing is during the 40 days as was Israel's testing during the 40 years. He ate nothing during those days. God's gift of manna was given to a grumbling people who had little faith. They ate, Jesus did not. At the end of he was very hungry.
The devil comes to him, equivalent to the Old Testament Satan, meaning adversary, slanderer.
"If you are the Son of God (Satan knows Jesus is the Son of God) turn this stone to become bread". Then in an instant he led him up. He says he has all authority. Such power, how terrible! But Satan may be lying! He then led Jesus to the highest point of the temple jutting out from the wall and encourages him to jump because "It is written concerning you that angels guard you carefully". When the devil had finished all this tempting he left him until another time.
So in the temptation story there are three tests: i] Stone into bread; will God supply Jesus's needs? ii] Authority over the world; iii] Signs and wonders; self-glorification. The story gives us insight into the devil. He acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one who is to lead his people to the promised kingdom; He accepts the authority of scripture; He is described as lord over the present age; he is a deceiver and so sets out to compromise Jesus' messiahship. As with all tempters he starts with the subtlety of doubt. Jesus' answers to all the wiles of his tempter are to quote scripture back to him. He is tempted to make food and he responds with spiritual food, to perform magical acts for his own benefit, with power the ultimate subtlety, the ultimate corrupter. He chooses each time the choice which would not give him fame, or wealth or power but would be a playing out of the plan for his life and give a satisfaction beyond that of these temptations and gives life.
Its a story of a cosmic struggle between the devil and God. The wilderness is Satan's realm, a place of horror, loneliness. Jesus's wilderness struggle is a foretaste of the coming three years which will involve an unending assault from demonic forces. As he is sustained and affirmed in the wilderness, so he is sustained through the wilderness of his ministry. People are also tested like Jesus.
If you havent eaten for 40 days and are hungry you are open to visions, to the spiritual, both the divine and the demonic. In our own lives we like Jesus face choices. We may feel we have at times entered a desert in our lives. A time of hunger, thirst, dryness. We may choose to fast and pray to give us a clarity. You may choose to go into a desert or be driven there. For many people in our society there is no choice. They are in a wilderness. Its a common experience not just something that happened 2000 years ago. When things go wrong, sickness, worries, the loneliness of wilderness is close to us. We sense beasts. It is a time of polarisation. In the desert we will experience the devil. Doubt about who we are and what we are doing. The powers of darkness will test our faith. But we are not alone. Angels will be with us.