Summary: "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him,
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, "’You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’"
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "’He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and "’On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’" And Jesus answered him, "It is said, ’You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’"
And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
It’s Lent again - that time when the merriment of the Christmas season and the January holidays most definitely comes to a crashing holt as we enter that traditional period of sombre self-assessment leading up to Easter.
I appreciate, of course, that you can’t go on partying forever but I did feel a bit short-changed this year, having Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) fall on my birthday. Even so, as I say, you can’t go on partying forever, and I accept indeed that now is the time to step back a bit from the revelry, just as it’s time to step back a bit in our Gospel reading today, to revisit Jesus’ temptations.
If you’ve been following our readings over recent weeks we have been pushing our way relentlessly through the Gospel of Luke. We’ve gone from Jesus being born to Him being circumcised, to His baptism, the launching of His ministry, to amazing miracles and good news to the poor, but now we take a step back to the beginning of Luke chapter 4 where Jesus is being tempted.
And that makes sense, I think, from the point of view of the church year, because it’s Lent, and hence an appropriate time to slow down a bit. It may be less obvious though why Luke the Gospel writer (who I assume didn’t frame his narrative around the church year) chose to insert this story where he did in his Gospel, for it comes as something of an anti-climax.
I was trying to think of a good Lenten story to tell today to lighten the mood somewhat and the only one that came to mind was that one given me some years ago by an elderly gentleman in an RSL club. He told me how he’d found an old lamp while cleaning up in his garage. He said he’d tried to give the lamp a bit of a polish and, lo and behold, the most beautiful genie suddenly appeared before him. The genie said, "I’ve come to give you super sex!" He said, "I told her, ’I think I’d better take the soup,’"
I thought that story had a Lenten feel about it and that it was strangely relevant to our Gospel reading this morning, as we’ve got so many dramatic events taking place in these early chapters of the Gospel of Luke and yet somehow today … we got the soup!
For look at the sequence of the stories we get in the opening chapters of Luke:
* Jesus is born
* Jesus is presented in the temple
* Jesus is baptised
* Jesus prepares to launch His ministry
And then they’re followed by … Jesus is tempted.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Luke might as well have included ’Jesus has breakfast’ or ’Jesus visit’s the men’s room’. For being tempted is something that happens to all of us, every day! Why bother mentioning the experience of being tempted in the middle of this dramatic sequence of events? Why bother mentioning Jesus’ temptations at all? Were Jesus’ temptations really all that different from anybody else’s?
Now the knee-jerk reaction of course is to say ’of course they were. Jesus’ temptations were entirely unique’, and I appreciate that the dramatic dialogues with the Devil may not be familiar landscape to us, and yet I have heard plenty of people describe their own struggles with temptation in similar terms, and I myself am not above depicting my own internal battles in terms of them being bouts with the Devil, for indeed, Jesus is not the only one who has to battle the Devil.
The extreme context of these confrontations may seem unique though . Jesus does battle with the Devil after 40 days without food, and that is something outside of the experience of most of us. If our old friend Father Elias were still with us though he would be humbly smiling at this point as he has completed a 40-day fast on two separate occasions if I remember.