Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 4: 1-11: Temptation

Jesus was tempted.  It is tempting to speak about temptation in general, and maybe quote scripture where it says he was tempted in every way as we are but was without sin.  Avoid that temptation.  There is nothing general about these mini-scenes.  They are specific, and at least two can be easily understood.

First is the temptation for bread.  After fasting for forty days and nights, the phrase “Jesus was hungry” might be a bit of an understatement.  True, the temptation for food (bread) is not something we normally think of when using the word “temptation” (apart from gluttony).  But the truth is all of our needs – food, clothing, shelter – the devil uses to occupy our lives.  It easily and regularly gets our mind off God, off his word, off the goal and on to our stomachs.  That is the essence or the goal if you will of temptation.  That is why these temptations are so difficult for us.  They are necessities.  They are the things without which we would surely die.

These temptations to necessities are especially hard when times get tough.  We heard two posts back about the worry in the heart of people, what shall we eat?  What shall we wear?  Where shall we sleep (when the bank forecloses and takes the house)?  As was said two weeks ago, this is not where we are to focus our attention.  Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and all these other things will be added to us.  

NOW the words of Jesus make sense.  It is not a flippant, slightly sarcastic answer as it might be perceived.  It fits with what he subsequently taught us all.  The important thing is not the bread, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Don’t be tempted by necessities.  God knows we need them. 

The third temptation is for power (status, wealth, glory), but mostly power.  To be in control.  To make things be the way we want them to be.  There is an old Irish legend about what a woman wants most of all:  her way.*  We are all like that to some extent.  I think we have an almost instinctive aversion to change, anarchy, life that feels out of control.  If only we had the power to make things the way we want them to be and insure that everything always stays under control.  That is the temptation.

All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.  His response was instructive, and not in the part about God being the only one we should worship.  Rather, in the part that God should be the only one we should serve.  You see, our job is service to God, or as Paul said, slave to God.  Well done thou good and faithful servant is what we should long to hear, and there are parables after parables to support this.  God is the potter and we are the clay.  Our place is not to control the universe and make it behave to our will.  Our place is to trust in the Lord so no matter how out-of-control life spirals.  As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

*Now, I said it was an old Irish legend, so if you think it is sexist, don’t yell at me.  Go out and find an old Irishman and yell at him.

The middle temptation is harder to understand.  It usually gets glossed over in a general talk about temptation, even ones where the temptations to necessities and power are specifically noted.  It is hard to understand, and hard to explain, exactly, but not impossible.  You see, it is what motivates and drives most human behavior and you might understand it best if I call it a desire for acceptance or driven by doubts and questions as to whether or not we are really accepted, and loved.  “If you are the son of God, does God really love you?”  That was what the devil was asking.  “Make God prove he loves you.”

We do this all the time, testing parents, children, spouses, each other, even bosses and especially with God.  We are driven by it.  We set up little tests – mostly unconscious I think – to see if so and so really loves us, cares about us, appreciates us.  It is not, as some suppose, a fear of rejection.  Rather it is this deeply rooted feeling that somehow, in the end, we will be found wanting.  We feel, and I am convinced the feeling itself is sin, that for all our works we are not good enough.  We feel we will be ashamed in some way when we come face to face with eternity. 

Christians are plagued by these feelings.  Does God really love me?  Can I earn his love, his respect, his tender care?  And we test God all the time.  Does he appreciate the work and sacrifices I am making for him?  And when facing trials and tribulations we conclude that God does not love us.  We wonder why we are suffering and we conclude that we are not good enough.  It is so often tempting to think this way.  It is tempting.

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One thought on “Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 4: 1-11: Temptation

  1. Solid teaching my friend. Hey, if you get a chance, please come and check out my site at chanceman4. My name is Chris Chance and there is a link on my blog to listen to my CD, “Following You” featuring “You” and “His Prints Are in the Sand”. We are trying to get this project up and moving, so anything you can do and any way you could pass it on would be greatly appreciated. Also you can go to http://www.noisetrade.com/chrischance. You can download any or all of my songs for the price of your choosing…pretty good deal…you can even get them for free, as long as you put in an email address and zip code. Hope you enjoy and are blessed by it!!!!
    Thanks and God Bless!
    Chris

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