Life is about choices, some mundane, tea or coffee for instance, some important, to make contact with a friend, to choose to wait until we have more information about a a particular decision and, some crucial.
The Christian believes that the choices we make have not only temporal but, eternal consequences.
Lent is a time to evaluate our life choices and, the model for this is Jesus’ own temptation in the desert.
I sometimes think that we sanitize this part of Jesus’ narrative, failing to understand that He really was tempted, seriously, deeply tempted, to make the wrong choices. He was tempted to achieve power, status and glory in three ways:
- He was offered economic power. Just think how his entrepreneurial stock would sore if he took the route of turning stones into bread. And, ponder for a moment how easy it would be to justify this course of action as Holy, after all he would have been able to provide real, physical, food for an impoverished people. But, unlike the Feeding of the Five Thousand, such a feeding would be bereft of any spiritual content, or holiness. Acceptance of this temptation would have provided Jesus with the opportunity for self-delusion, he would have been able to feel good about a bad choice. The Devil’s first temptation is subtle, nuanced and clever.
- He was offered political power and again he rejected it. If he had accepted the temptation for political power,by jumping into the abyss and being saved by the angels He would have achieved instant fame. Through the spectacular He would have secured a following. His followers, however, would be limited those addicted to, or impressed by the spectacular and, the cult of the leader (sadly this phenomena is also a feature of religious life). Such followers could never have become true, world changing disciples, as again there would be no spiritual connection with their leader . The Christ of Palm Sunday would not have been possible. The three days of Easter could not have happened. The Devil’s second temptation is less subtle instead going straight to the heart of the human ego, he plays on the desire to be liked and followed, through what we do, rather than who we are. It is the equivalent of that most annoying of dinner party questions ‘what do you do?’
- He was offered religious power, through the practice of Devil worship. Instead Jesus chooses to worship God, even though He knows that this will lead Him to feel forsaken (in the Garden of Gethsemane). The third temptation is the most crude and, yet in many ways the most scientific for the Devil is a good anthropologist. He knows that human beings are designed to worship (after all he is the Devil largely because of his own worship choices) and that, and this is a sobering thought, our worship can only be directed in one of two directions, evil or good.
The consequences of Jesus’ rejection of His temptations are played out through the subsequent Gospel stories. He is able to feed people both physically and spiritually, He is able to provide a model for a different form of leadership, and He is able to accept His destiny, even though he knows that He will feel forsaken. The Easter story reveals the eternal consequences of Jesus’ choices. Ultimately His choices are salvific; both for Him, and us, His disciples.
Lent provides us with the opportunity, strengthened by His grace, to face down our temptations and, I guess, modern temptations can still be categorized as entrepreneurial, political or religious. I think that the desire for power is both the virtue (or vice)and, the engine of temptation. Jesus instead offers an ethic of self-sacrificial love.
One final thought, if you can bear it: just imagine Jesus had succumbed. What would have happened? I have a nagging suspicion that He might still have gone to the Cross, not willingly, but, in total rejection of His destiny, because the power that He exercised would still have been an affront to the Roman and Jewish leaders (the politicians and the religious leaders) but, that there would be no resurrection glory as His religious leader (the Devil) would have no interest in securing either His, or our, eternal destiny. Under this scenario Jesus would be no more that a figure of historical interest, just another example of someone who challenged the status quo for a brief period and, lost. Thanks be to God for Jesus real Lenten choices.
This Lent what choice will you, and your church make; power or love?
Do you agree that Lenten choices are salvific , both for ourselves and others?