Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness
When I was in my early 20s I spent a few months working in Singapore on a secondment. Before I returned to the UK, I decided I needed to travel a little around South East Asia. So I travelled North through Malaysia and Thailand. I had done a fair bit of travelling on my own in the UK and France, but I had always known some of the language. I remember getting off the bus at 4 in the morning next to a major highway with the rain pouring down and being so completely disorientated as to where I was. Even though I was surrounded by people I felt completely isolated and alone. People were extremely kind and welcoming. But many were also constantly trying to sell me things. The entire time I remember having this inner monologue, questioning each decision I took about where to go and what to do, challenging myself to be true to myself.
Silence and solitude are good but are also very difficult. Children naturally go into daydream states where they can work out subconsciously what has been happening. They play with little toy people and role play in an attempt to work through and contemplate their experiences. As adults it’s not always so easy to do this, and when we do take the time to contemplate in silence, we find ourselves fighting with ourselves. Fighting off feelings of shame and guilt, setting ourselves against ourselves, doubting who we are. I was in Foyle’s at Waterloo yesterday and the surge in people’s interest in mindfulness and meditation is clear to see in the titles of books on one of the book cases. People are seeking, in the busyness of the world, and in the solitude we often find ourselves in, to find a way of being comfortable with themselves.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, after his baptism, is led to the wilderness by the Spirit. The story we then hear is of three harrowing temptations. But we should not forget that Jesus keeps trying throughout his ministry to find opportunities for the kind of silence and solitude which he found in the desert before his ministry began. It is in that solitude which he wants to commune with the Father, but he must also deal with his own temptations. It is worth making a few points generally about temptation. The passage talks about the devil, satan and the tempter. In effect these are personifications of temptation, but it is clear from our understanding and our own experience that temptation comes from within. Jesus talks later about how it is what comes from within which defiles – it is how we respond to our own temptation. The inner demon is the tendency to set ourselves against ourselves – so as to challenge our very nature. Jesus’ temptations – are about who he is. What sort of Jesus he is going to be. And they foreshadow the temptations he will encounter. You could sum up all temptation as challenging whether we are to be true to ourselves, as made in God’s image. But if temptation comes from within, it is not to say temptation makes us bad or sinful. Jesus was neither of those things, but he was clearly tempted. It is whether we fall to temptation that is the challenge For Jesus there are three temptations.
First, the temptation to transform the stones into bread. Jesus has been brought into the desert by the Spirit, he is there, hungry and alone, as part of God’s plan. To act alone to satisfy his own needs would be the opposite of his entire purpose. Jesus tells us he and the father are one. When he does, later, take loaves and fish and feed 5000 he does so first after giving thanks to the Father, he does so in union with the Father, and he does so to serve those who are hungry and in need – not for his own gain. Later, when Jesus tells his disciples he will suffer and die, Peter will suggest they should run away and Jesus replies bluntly ‘Away from me Satan’. How easy it is for each of us to find an easy way to serve ourselves and ignore the needs of others. The temptation to avoid the challenges in front of us. But we all know that they don’t go away when we hide.
Jesus’ second temptation is to test God. To seek glory by some miraculous rescue. It’s not unlike the passersby who seeing Jesus on the cross suggest that if he is the Son of God why doesn’t he simply get down. But God ultimately glorifies Jesus not by saving him from suffering, but by transforming his suffering to overcome death.
The final temptation is not unlike the one which Adam and Eve find in the garden, to be as knowledgeable as God, to set themselves up in competition with God. This is the Luke I am your Father moment, where Vader suggests Luke should come with him and rule the empire with him. Only here the temptation is for Jesus to set himself up as this earthly king to rival the father’s authority. But it is a limited power. Adam and Eve find out the difference between good and evil – but that doesn’t mean they are actually rivals to the God who created them. Jesus could have said to Pilate: yes I am King of the Jews. But he was the Prince of Peace, King, with the Father of heaven and earth. How often do we seek human recognition and authority but forget that ultimately, as a part of God’s creation we are something far more loved and precious than any worldly honour could bestow.
So as you find your times of solitude and silence, be kind to yourself, listen to that inner voice tempting you, challenging you to become something you are not. And put those temptations to the side, confident that you are loved because you are you.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Morning Prayer in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Christian Meditation Wednesdays at 9.10am
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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