(2 Corinthians 6.1-10 & Matthew 4.1-11 – BCP Lectionary)
The two readings today invite us to see how Christianity, the way of Christ, have elements fo the paradoxical. Those who do not know Jesus may see us as foolish and weak, but we have confidence that by trusting in God we have wisdom and strength.
On Ash Wednesday we had the opportunity to have a rather paradoxical cross of ash marked on our foreheads as a sign of repentance and renewal. The ash, made from burning last year’s palm crosses, is a reminder of our mortality, but the shape of the cross is a reminder that we have a saviour who has put an end to death.
Holding fast to this knowledge means that we can face terrible calamities, such as Paul wrote about in his letter to the Corinthians – beatings, imprisonments, hardships and hunger – and we can do so with a rejoicing heart. Not because these hardships don’t matter, but because they do not define us. Therefore even when life strips us of all we have, we still possess everything, because we have the love of Christ, our Redeemer.
This requires confidence in God, and we are given Jesus as the example on which to model of godly life. St Paul elsewhere referred to Jesus as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15.22, 45 & Romans 5.12-21). Unlike Adam and Eve who could not resist the temptation of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus represent humanity’s tendency to disobedience, Jesus was faithful and obedient, and so provided the path back to righteousness for all humanity.
We see this on the Cross, in the garden of Gethsemane, and as in today’s Gospel reading, during his time in the wilderness. Not only are we hearing a reverse echo of the choices made in the Garden of Eden, we are also shown a pattern first seen in Exodus. The temptation of Jesus occurred immediately after his baptism in the River Jordan, after which the Spirit led him into the wilderness for forty days. Compare this with passing through the Red Sea and Moses leading the people into the wilderness for forty years, a longer period than was necessary caused by the Israelites’ disobedience.
Jesus is then offered three temptations, each designed to challenge his obedience to God, and his identity.
He is offered bread. Our physical needs are important but again they need not define us. We are not to focus on material possessions, but rather the word of God. In Lent we spend time fasting and studying the Bible. These are, despite what we might think, meant to be joyful activities. Learning leads us closer to God, and fasting or giving up something for Lent might show us where we have become entangled in bad habits or addictions, which we can then address.
Then Jesus was invited to test his identity, or perhaps a more insidious suggestion, that he should prove his identity as the Son of God. We live in a world where so many people seem to base their understanding of their worth on how many likes they get on social media, but external validation is never going to be enough. Jesus did not rise to the devil’s challenge – he was entirely secure in the love of God and in knowing who he was. Likewise we are invited to rest secure in the knowledge that we are beloved children of God, our identity born in the waters of baptism and with a lifetime guarantee that will last for eternity.
And finally, the devil offered power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Jesus showed that God has a different approach to leadership – it is servant-hearted, and it begins in worship of God. For us, the Lenten disciplines include prayer, confession and Sunday worship, each one drawing us closer to God. We then live out our faith in alms-giving and works of charity, serving others, not ourselves.
The Gospel reminds us that the devil, the spiritual battle between good and evil, is real. It’s not about a cartoon character with horns and a trident, but if we look we see sin and evil happening in the world, and we called to resist it. Lent is part of our response to salvation, and preparation for the choices we must make, the temptations we must resist.
So may the example of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness help you to hold fast to God, resist temptation, and take up your cross and follow him.