Tuesday, February 9, 2016

LENT I 2016

The forty days of Lent are patterned on the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Luke’s account in the Gospel for this Sunday makes an explicit connection with Psalm 91, which is thus the appointed Psalm.
Satan is the source of these temptations, a difficulty for modern readers since talk of ‘the devil’ often seems very alien -- not only strange but unwelcome. The way the Gospel tells the story, however, is quite compatible with thinking of these temptations primarily as thoughts and visions that come unbidden to Jesus in his solitude, thoughts that it takes a very deep resolve to resist. However many days exactly, and whatever the precise form of the temptations, the Gospel writer shows great spiritual insight into the mind of someone poised for a divinely appointed mission that may well prove, not just demanding, but disastrous, at least from a human point of view.
The temptations are of three kinds – simple (easy bread when Jesus is famished), grandiose (personal power and glory as a prophet), and spiritual (dramatic and compelling proof of God’s sovereignty). In many ways it is the last that is most important. That is because from time to time all sincerely religious people face the temptation of doing God’s work in their own way rather than in God’s. Moreover the source of this temptation may itself be Scriptural.
The Second Temptation William Blake
This is precisely the challenge Jesus confronts. After all, Satan is quoting Scripture (Psalm 91) when he says ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you’. But to rely on this is to test God, and that is what is absolutely forbidden. Those who want to live in the shelter of the Most High, will first say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust’.
The same temptation recurs still more critically with the reality of death by crucifixion. The closing sentence of the Gospel powerfully makes this connection. “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time”. That opportune time comes on Calvary. There, though, Satan jeers with the voices of ordinary people --  ‘Let him come down from the cross, and then we shall believe him’. This last temptation Jesus also resists because of a deep mystery -- that the ‘Most High’ has chosen the Way of the Cross for our redemption.

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