Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
Tempting, isn’t it? Preached by The Rev. Peter Courtney
Ah, the temptations of Jesus. Zap! In the time it takes the electrical impulses in our brains to randomly interpret “the temptations of Jesus” we have made our peace with this story. At the speed of light we have inserted our glosses on what the story has on offer.
We discount the impact of this story because the temptations are proffered to Jesus. We know he is not like us; he is some sort of superman. The story itself tells us that he has been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. We sing the song every year to remind us of this superhuman effort on Jesus’ part. We try not to think of our own modest efforts at self-improvement which usually last a day or two. In order to avoid feeling inadequate, we simply promote Jesus to superman. While he may not be faster than a speeding bullet, he is by all accounts at least a religious expert. He is someone who knows how to do things that are outside of our imagination or will. We demote ourselves to a beta model of Joe Six-pack or Jane Lunch pail. We are just poor working slobs who are trying to get the job done. We are simply out of our league when it comes to using religion to be intimate with God.
To be fair to us, one of the reasons this story is in the bible is because people had done the inverse of what we did. They started with God. Far off, unapproachable God, indifferent God, angry God. This flappable God who is also unsoothable just doesn’t get what it is like to try to live in this goofy world we have to struggle with. So the story teller tries to tell us we are not alone. God comes as one who can show us how truly wonderful it is to be in relationship with God who is a revealing God. This God really does get it.
Oops. Now we ratchet ourselves up another notch. We think, once again at the speed of light, well, it may be a wonderful thing to have a God who really experiences life on life’s terms, but after all, Jesus was well armed. He went to Babdis Bible College and he knows how to quote scripture better than a rabbi. In this story at least he quotes it better than the tempter.
To tell the truth, the tempter doesn’t resort to bible quoting until the third round of tempting, although the first two sound a bit like something that might be religious or something.
What we have learned through the ages is that the tempter is as good a bible quoter as we are because the tempter is us. We are the ones who fashion the ingenious, clever, imaginative reasons that convince us that what we want to do is going to be, well, for the best.
In the real world, not the fuzzy one of our imaginations, this is called magical thinking.
A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it?" The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, 10 or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?" The Zen master teacher thought for a moment, "Twenty years."
Yes, there is no magic, even the magic of our imaginations that delude us into thinking the way we did when we were children.
“Mom, please, please, please can I have a kitten? Oh mom, they are so cute. Oh mom everybody has a kitten in the whole world but me. I promise I’ll feed it every day. I’ll clean out its litter box. I’ll even save my allowance and help pay for its food. Please mom, pleeeeeezee!”
God does know how it is with us. God knows that each of us does what we want as much as we possibly can. And God knows that once we have gone and done it, we want to put as positive possible spin on our motives and reasoning as possible. Failing positive spin, we look for someone else to blame.
I love the way Richard Petty taught Kyle to race. "Win the race as slow as you can, son." There is no magic in the race. The only way out is through.
Sam Keen tells us all we need to know about our own internal tempter. He says “at the heart of "illness" is the impotent child who is still crying, "I can't. You do it for me." And it is clear that the moment in therapy when the patient begins to "get well" is when he says, "I am responsible for my feelings, my actions and my style of life. In spite of parents, family, friends or the surrounding culture, I alone can make the decision to outgrow my dis-ease and to establish a way of life that is satisfying. There is no magic. My final dignity is my ability to choose my style of life."
Ah, my style of life. The one I choose; the choices I make; the consequences I reap. The devils I design. God is calling me to know myself well enough to see through this stuff.