Lent 2C: The House That is Left to You

jesus_lament_04OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18

Read the Old Testament passage

This passage is made up of two parts: The first six verses are a dialogue between YHWH and Abram resulting in the promise of first a son and then of countless descendants. The last part has to do with the promise of land. This is the core of the promises to Abraham and set the stage for the Abrahamic covenant. Once again, we have the familiar admonition from God of “Do not be afraid.” God will take care of it. This covenant and passage, of course, make up the basis for ancient Hebrew theology. It is also evidence of God’s incredible (and often unimaginable) generosity for God’s people.

The word that is translated here as “believed” is probably better translated as “trust”—Abraham trusted in God and what God had said and what God would do. And yet, Abram did prove to be a little bit uncooperative and impatient. And he wants some more information as to how God was going to overcome the big obstacles that were apparent and work this all out. But, in Abram’s defense, remember what “barrenness” meant in that time. An absence of children was not just a discontinuation of one’s line. It was death. There would be no one to care for you, no one to work with you to provide. Barrenness or infertility was looked upon as failure. It meant that God had not blessed you or provided for you.

In the ancient Middle East, covenants were traditionally sealed by the custom of sacrificing animals and cutting them in half. This was the literal “cutting of the covenant”. The makers of the covenant would then pass between the two halves of the animals. But with this covenant, it was God and God, alone, who passed through the pieces. God is the one who reached out. It was God’s covenant.

And so Abram “trusted” God (with what he saw as a little help from himself). He also questioned God (which I don’t think is such a bad thing! It really just gives you room to grow.) After all, this really didn’t make any sense. Here Abraham has been waiting around and no kids have emerged. So, basically, Abraham had taken care of it. Isn’t that just like us? We like being showered with promises but when they don’t materialize in quite the way we envisioned, we try to take care of it a different way. But, God clarifies the promise a little bit more. This is not the heir that God had been talking about. The heir shall be a biological child of Abraham and Sarah rather than a surrogate birth. Well, I’m sure you can see Abraham rolling his eyes a bit. Are you kidding me? Because, you see, I’m really, really old. This is just not normal. This is not even rational. This is nuts!

But, it says, Abraham finally believed God. The truth is, Abraham, father of three of the world’s major religions, was not perfect. In fact, he wasn’t even all that trustworthy. He was human. He was just like us. And God, with infinite patience, kept promising and kept delivering. And Abraham? Well, that wasn’t some sort of blind faith like some would like to depict it. Part of him was probably a little angry and definitely impatient. Faith and trust and all those things are not laid out on some sort of straight path. They come with lots of bumps and valleys along the way. I think that’s the point. Faith is not about blind acceptance; it is about relationship.  So, the events surrounding the life of Abram are more than just ancestral tales; they become the voice of God to the people of God. “Do not be afraid.” In other words, just stick with me; I’ll ride it out with you!

But it should be noted that the land was given to Abram’s descendants rather than to Abraham himself. The realization of God’s promise was not immediate gratification. (I mean, did you think that you were the only one to which God was making promises?) Maybe that’s our whole problem. Maybe we want to see the fruits of our faith now, in our lifetime. Maybe faith is about realizing that we are part of a deep and abiding relationship between God and humanity as the holy and the sacred sort of dribbles into our world little by little. Our part is important but it is, oh, so much bigger than us. In fact, it’s really not even rational the way we think it should be. Maybe that’s what makes it faith. (In other words, just stick with me. I’ll ride it out with you!)

 

  • What is your response to this passage?
  • What does it mean to you to truly trust God? What stands in the way of our trusting God?
  • Do you think that you believe in God in such a way that it would constitute “righteousness”?
  • What does it mean to truly believe that God will make our future secure?
  • What does that say about how we view our own “barren” places?
  • How do we get past the innate need for immediate gratification?
  • What does that faithfulness in a future in which we may not see mean for us during this season of Lent?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT: Philippians 3: 17-4:1

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

This passage, too, is in two parts: The first deals with the behavior of true believers. The second part is linked to the eschatological hope believers have in the coming Savior. It’s not really clear who the “enemies” are about which Paul is writing—perhaps it was those who were preaching a different kind of Gospel or those who did not live lives in accordance with the Gospel. But Paul is referring not to individual things that they do but to a pattern of life. He is essentially laying out two realities and asking the Philippian believers to choose the one that is authentic and by which they would live. Paul claims that the believers do not belong to the environment in which they now live but to a new “citizenship” in heaven.

Now we need to understand here that the people of Philippi were Roman citizens who took this very seriously. Philippi was a Roman, rather than a Greek, colony. But not everyone was a citizen. “Citizenship” was not a right. It was an honor that came with birthright. Their power came through their rights as citizens. But Paul is claiming to them that they have a much more significant citizenship waiting for them. It is essentially a redefinition of their very identity. There was no longer a class or birthright distinction.

This was indeed a new citizenship and one founded on the cross. It is a relationship based on others (as opposed to the self-centered “god in one’s belly” type of life). It is a citizenship that is not inherited but is rather lived. It is based on humility and self-sacrifice, just as Jesus Christ lived. It is a holy and sacred citizenship.

But holiness is an interesting thing. If one professes to be “holy”, then he or she has missed the mark. That was the problem with the alternative version of the Gospel about which Paul was warning his followers. Warning: If someone tells you that they have holiness or righteousness or godliness figured out, you should run. Holiness and righteousness are not quantifiable in the context of this world; rather, we are citizens of something that is both already and not yet. We are citizens of that which is beyond ourselves. It is not something that we have attained at this point. But, as Paul says, stand firm. It is just up ahead.

Jesus Christ showed us what it meant to leave this world, this citizenship behind. If not, then he surely would have saved himself from the Cross. But he understood that beyond what we know, beyond the rational, beyond the citizenship of this world in which we live, is something more—life. Our goal should not to be to become holy or righteous but to become alive in Christ. It is about relationship; it is about love; it is about caring and compassion. It is about life. And that is all the holiness and sacredness that you will ever need.

 

  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What does that redefinition of identity mean for us as 21st century Christians?
  • What does that change in the definition of “citizenship” mean for us?
  • What is difficult for us about that?
  • What is holiness to you?
  • How does this speak to our Lenten journey?

 

GOSPEL: Luke 13: 31-35

Read the Gospel passage

We need to remember that, with the exception of one boyhood trip with his parents, Jesus had not been to Jerusalem. Jesus’ ministry was in Galilee. In fact, most of his ministry sort of centered around a lake. (We actually call it the Sea of Galilee—sort of a misinterpretation. It’s really a large and very deep fresh water lake.) From the middle of this lake, you can look around to the cities that line its banks—Tiberias and Sephoris, the cities built by Herod Antipas, the ruins of the ancient city of Magdala under Mt. Arbor, Bethsaida, Capernaum—and between the lake and the Mediterranean Sea were the cities of Cana and Nazareth. This was the area in which Jesus’ ministry began. Jesus was not commuting to work in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was still a long way off, through the wilderness and beyond the fertile area of Galilee.

But even here, Jesus was probably perceived as a threat by Herod. It would have been much easier for Herod to get rid of Jesus. After all, this was the Herod that had already killed John the Baptist (and getting rid of Jesus would probably have elevated Herod’s somewhat meager ranking as a ruler.) And Herod had his own vision working as he tried to lead the Galilean people to a new world—a world where Rome was the center and where the values were totally opposed by the teachings of Jesus. So, yes, Jesus was a threat.

There are differing notions as to what Jesus meant when he referred to Herod as a “fox”. In the Old Testament writings, the fox was often associated with destruction and Jewish dietary laws classified the jackal as “unclean.” To the first century Greeks, the fox was seen as clever but unprincipled. Whatever Jesus’ intended meaning was, it was clear that Jesus dismissed Herod Antipas as powerless to stop his mission to establish the Kingdom of God. As Jesus responded, he was going to do what he came to do and then he would be on his way. The mission was set. So with this Scripture, we begin to get a sense that Jesus is looking toward and facing Jerusalem.

Jesus is no longer merely “preparing” to go to Jerusalem. He is headed there. He has set his face toward the holy city. To Jesus, the danger was not in the Herods of the world but, rather, those things that got in the way of his mission. But he turns toward the city with regrets and heartache. And Jesus laments for Jerusalem. In The Gospel According to Matthew, this lament is placed once Jesus is in Jerusalem. We have this image of Jesus standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and lamenting for what could have been. But in the gospel by the writer known as Luke that we read today, the lament is part of Jesus’ Galilean experience. It is indeed a lament but rather than Jesus bemoaning what could have been, it is instead a challenge to the people to become a part of this mission, to “get their house in order”, so to speak, and to become a part of that new humanity that is of Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not want Jerusalem to become a symbol of a city that rejects and kills the messengers of God; Jesus wants it to be the Holy City of God that it proclaims to be. After all, this is not an ordinary city. This is the city that claims that the presence of God is in its midst, right there in the temple in the heart of the city near Mt. Zion. And yet, this city, too, has fallen into a different cadence, marching to the beat of prosperity and security and a positioning of power toward those around it. This holy city, the city of the temple, the city that should know better, would be the one that when the time came, would reject Jesus. Jesus knew this. So he turns his face toward Jerusalem and begins the journey toward the cross.

And, once again, lest we somehow lapse into an understanding of Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus as only attributed to the 1st century Jewish believers, we need to realize that we are part of it. Jesus was not rejected by a religion; Jesus was rejected by a culture and a society that thought that they were so right and so comfortable that they did not want to or have a need to change. Jesus was rejected by a culture and a way of life that is very much like our own. But there’s another point to the Scripture. Even knowing the rejection waiting for him in Jerusalem, Jesus still expresses the wish to love and protect the people, gathering them together as a hen does her chicks. Jesus never stoops to their level. He never judges or rants and raves about what is right, or what is moral, or what is going to happen to them because they have rejected him. He is the perfect image of God—the loving parent, the mother hen, who more than anything else, just wants to love her children and desires for them that they feel that love.

God calls us and when we do not respond, God does not reject us; instead, God surely laments. And even through the Sacred Eyes now blurred by Divine Tears, God, with open arms, once again invites us home. Lent calls us to remember that, to remember that even when we make other plans, even when we lose our focus, and even when we completely reject what God is doing, God is always there, always calling us to return. But until we realize that, we’ll never find our way.

On the western slope of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, sits a small chapel called Dominus Flevit. The name comes from Luke’s Gospel, which contains not one but two accounts of Jesus’ grief over the loss of Jerusalem. According to tradition, it was here that Jesus wept over the city that had refused his ministrations.

Inside the chapel, the altar is centered before a high arched window that looks out over the city. Iron grillwork divides the view into sections, so that on a sunny day the effect is that of a stained-glass window. The difference is that this subject is alive. It is not some artist’s rendering of the holy city but the city itself, with the Dome of the Rock in the bottom left corner and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the middle. Two-thirds of the view is the cloudless sky above the city which the grillwork turns into a quilt of blue squares. Perhaps this is where the heavenly Jerusalem hovers over the earthly one, until the time comes for the two to meet?

Down below, on the front of the altar, is a picture of what never happened in that city. It is a mosaic medallion of a white hen with a golden halo around her head. Her red comb resembles a crown, and her wings are spread wide to shelter the pale yellow chicks that crowd around her feet. There are seven of them, with black dots for eyes and orange dots for beaks. They look happy to be there. The hen looks ready to spit fire if anyone comes near her babies.

But like I said, it never happened, and the picture does not pretend that it did. The medallion is rimmed with red words in Latin. Translated into English they read, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” The last phrase is set outside the circle, in a pool of red underneath the chicks’ feet: you were not willing…

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. (From “As a Hen Gathers Her Brood, by Barbara Brown Taylor, The Christian Century, February 25, 1986, available at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=638, accessed 16 February, 2013.)

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A thought experiment: read through the gospel text substituting the name of your town for “Jerusalem” wherever it appears. (You could try “Washington” too, but the US government feels so distant from most of us that it might not have the desired effect.) Does anything about that reading ring true?

In her commentary on Luke, Sharon Ringe writes, “When God’s gracious will is thwarted by human refusal to accept it, Jesus’ proclamation turns into lament” (192). True. We can see that lament in the story we’ll be tracing throughout Lent. Humans reject things like “casting out demons and performing cures” (Luke 13:32) as well as the rest of what Jesus has to do and say. And we misread the story if it only functions to blame someone else for that rejection (“those stubborn, corrupt Jewish leaders” or “that fox, Herod and all establishment power like him” or “those mindless crowds, fueled solely by emotion, who could say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ one day and ‘Crucify him!’ the next”).

This is one time when we are not hearing the story correctly if we hear in it only someone else’s problem. Biblical scholars usually want us all to remember that the scriptures are not just God’s word to us, but to all people across centuries. “It’s not always about you” is a good reminder for all sorts of things in our lives, Bible-reading included. Yet so-called critical distance with this text creates the problem of blaming someone else for the rejection of God’s own servant, Jesus. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces”. If this is true, then perhaps those ten thousand Christs are traveling to ten thousand Jerusalems and hoping to gather their inhabitants the way a hen gathers her chicks. (Mary Hinkle Shore, “Wide Open Are Your Arms”, from Pilgrim Preaching, 2 Lent C, available at http://maryhinkle.typepad.com/pilgrim_preaching/2004/03/wide_open_are_y.html, accessed 24 February 2010.)

(Here’s the whole poem):

As kingfishers catch fire; dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and do the same;

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes itself; Myself it speaks and spells. Crying What I do is me: for that I came. 

I say more: the just man justices; Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eyes what in God’s eye he is—Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his

To the father through the feature of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

  • What meaning does this hold for you?
  • What “Jerusalem” do we need to face this Lent?
  • What is it that stands in the way of your responding to God’s call?
  • What does it mean for us to take more responsibility for what happens in the world, for what happens in our Jerusalems?

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

 

The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.. (Havelock Ellis)

 

Lent is always a call to conversion. The problem is that we must remember that conversion is not a call to be something other than what we are. Conversion is a call to become more of what we are really meant to be. (Joan Chittister, Listen With the Heart, 28)

 

In wilderness is the preservation of the world. (Henry David Thoreau)

 

Closing

 

We are your people, mostly privileged, competent, entitled. Your people who make futures for ourselves, seize opportunities, get the job done and move on. In our self-confidence, we expect little beyond our productivity; we wait little for that which lies beyond us, and then settle with ourselves at the center. And you, you in the midst of privilege, our competence, our entitlement.

 

You utter large, deep oaths beyond our imagined futures.

You say—fear not, I am with you.

You say—nothing shall separate us.

You say—something of new heaven and new earth.

You say—you are mine; I have called you by name.

You say—my faithfulness will show concretely and will abide.

And we find our privilege eroded by your purpose, our competence shaken by your future, our entitlement unsettled by your other children.

Give us grace to hear your promises. Give us freedom to trust your promises.

Give us patience to wait and humility to yield our dreamed future to your large purpose.

We pray in the name of Jesus who is your deep “yes” to our lives. Amen.

(Walter Brueggemann, in Prayers for a Privileged People, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 45-46.)

 

Lent 1C: Pilgrimage

Fork in the desert roadOLD TESTAMENT: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

Read the Old Testament passage

The Israelites have been traveling for generations. The stories are all through the Torah, stories of loss and despair, stories of feeling like an alien, stories of out and out abuse from their captors, stories of wandering in the wilderness. And, always, there has been a vision of home, a vision of where God is, a vision of where they belong. And so this passage begins with what they know to be: when they come to the land of promise, all will be right. They will be home.

But as the passage continues, there is also a calling of what it means to be home, of what it means to be “settled”, of what it means to “possess”. In essence, all of these promises and gifts that God gives come with a responsibility to give back. The meaning of possession here does not seem to be holding but rather entrusting. God gives and then they are called to give in return. The gifts that we are given are not “ours” the way we think of “ours”; rather they are ours to use in forming the world into the vision that God holds for us all.

But the passage also lays out exactly what is to be offered to God. It is not the leftovers. It is the first of the fruit of the ground that is harvested. Our modern slang would call it “off the top”. (Yes, even before the federal government!) And the directive is to take it and put it in a basket and offer it as a part of the worship of God. The passage even gives the exact response to be offered: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…etc.” I suppose it is an acknowledgment that this land that has been given is not an inheritance the way we have come to think of the word. It is not something that is “due”. Rather, we realize that we are all immigrants, all searching for a place to be. The word “wandering” can also mean “perishing”. In other words, God has raised up the perishing and brought them home. Isn’t that just like God?

As we begin this season of Lent, we are called to be aware of all that God has given us. And we, too, are called to respond, to offer our first fruits in thanksgiving to God. I think that we are also called to remember from whom and where we came. The truth is, we are all immigrants, wandering Arameans if you will. And God opens the doors and invites us home. And we are called to do the same. The doors are not ours to close. We do not possess what is behind them. Everything belongs to God.

Notice too that the offering is not required immediately upon entering the land. God is not standing at the door to freedom like some sort of holy ticket-taker. Rather, the gift of home also comes with the gift of time—to possess, to settle, to plant, and to harvest. And then, then, with thanksgiving and gratitude, God is to be offered the first of the harvest, the brightest and best. It is a reminder that no one is expected to enter the door fully formed. We are all living on that journey toward who it is God calls us to be. Perhaps part of that journey is a patience toward others as they take the time to do the same.

And, of course, it is hard to read this without remembering that this promise of land comes with the dispossession of others. Land, of course, is a finite commodity on this earth. But it really doesn’t say anything about displacement of the one that is there. The assumption is that all of God’s children, both resident and alien, will reside together and in joy celebrate the great bounty of home that God offers all of God’s children. We remember who we are, we remember the road that we traveled, we give thanks for all that God has done, and we welcome other journeyers in. (Hmmm! Sounds like Communion to me!) “Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does the notion of being an alien mean to you?
  3. How do we define “possession”?   What would it mean for us to definine it as a “responsibility”?
  4. In what ways do we miss that feeling of gratitude for all that God offers us?
  5. What does “home” mean for you?
  6. What does this passage mean for us in this Lenten season?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT: Romans 10: 8b-13

Read the Romans passage

In this passage, Paul is in the middle of explaining why the gospel does not amount to a betrayal of his own people or a denial of scripture. He claims that this new way of looking at things, this gospel, creates something that produces right relationship and, subsequently, right behavior. It takes further this idea of the commandments, “God’s law”, no longer being external “rules” but rather something that is indeed written on one’s heart. The basis for righteousness, for Paul, is being at one with God.

Paul professes that acceptance of Christ as Lord leads to liberation. Essentially, Paul has made the same claim before but, here, he is speaking of a more internalized relationship with God. It is beyond just doing right and living right; it is being one with God. At the end of the passage, Paul affirms the equality of all humanity before God, either Jew or Gentile. Right-standing before God is a gift available to all humanity for the asking. To stand approved before God (to stand justified) is simply a matter of faith.

The problem that Paul is countering is that most saw goodness as achieved by obeying the law. They saw their standing as progressed by merit. They could not grasp “perfection” in the sense of Christ. You can actually sense Paul’s frustration. His passionate belief in the Gospel and in Jesus Christ as Savior comes through. But you also get a sense of a certain frustration. He truly believes that the Gospel is open and inclusive of everyone and, yet, he is frustrated that he doesn’t seem to be getting the response that he desires. And yet, he never gives up on the notion that Israel is special, chosen. He cannot imagine that God would ultimately abandon God’s covenant people. God will not just quit loving God’s children. It is apparent that Paul’s image of God is of a Creator who is loving and caring toward all of Creation.

Paul is clear that if one professes to be a Christian, than one must openly confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet, this confession comes without shame. That’s a hard thing for us to fathom. After all, our society thrives on shame. We do not do a good job of letting things go—either ours or others. Paul is calling us here to let the shame go and experience joy instead. The notion of God’s love and generosity being open and available to all is a pretty bold statement when you think about it. Many in this world would take exception to that. So does that mean that we are all equal before God’s eyes? Probably not. Perhaps we need to get out of ourselves. This is not a statement about us; it is a statement about God. We don’t make our salvation happen; God does. God is at work in us—ALL of us.

This Salvation thing is a hard notion to grasp. So, we don’t have to DO anything? We don’t have to rack up a certain number of points for God to acknowledge our membership is this little club. We just have to ask; we just have to desire God; we just have to confess and believe or believe and confess. (If you notice, Paul, or possibly Paul’s translators, reversed the two.) Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s the whole point. God desires that we confess not for God but for us; and we need to believe or there’s really no point to this at all. I don’t think it matters which comes first. (After all, God created both the chicken and the egg!) The point is that it’s offered to all. God comes to each of God’s children in God’s own way. So whatever we confess and whatever we believe that brings us closer to God is probably the whole idea. The passage is a reminder that Jesus did not come to straighten us out on the rules but to invite us home and show us what that meant. Now THAT is something in which I can believe!

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Why is it so difficult for this world to see Salvation as inclusive?
  3. What does confession mean for you?
  4. What does belief mean for you?
  5. How, then, should we look at the “written law”?
  6. What does it mean to you to profess your “witness”?
  7. What does this mean for you in this Lenten season?

 

 

GOSPEL: Luke 4: 1-13

Read the Gospel passage

In the chapter prior to this reading, Jesus was baptized. The Spirit of God has entered him and he is ready to begin his ministry. It is a reminder of our own baptism and our own calling into God’s work. The writer of Luke then goes into the forty day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. It says that he was led by the Spirit, the very essence of God. It is his first act of ministry—to become a sojourner, to go to God in prayer, to take a good hard look at his life and his calling. Then Jesus departs into the desert, the place of wildness and wonder. Think about all the stories of wilderness—Israel passing through the wilderness toward liberation. In the same way, Jesus is liberated from the world and we with him. Preparing for this liberation is a journey and involves struggle. For some the struggle is overwhelming. But God is leading us all.

During Lent, we often focus on the temptation (the “devil” part of the story, or whatever that is to you). Jesus is tempted where he is most vulnerable. He is tempted to guarantee having what he needs, to shift attention away from purpose. He is tempted to possess. Think about how famished Jesus really was. All Jesus has to do is say the word and he would have what he so desperately needs. Then, he is tempted by his desire of affirmation by God, the desire to impress. We all want to be liked; we all want to be validated. After all, he was just beginning his ministry…this would be a guarantee that they would LIKE him. Finally, he was tempted with the desire to be in control or to have glory or recognition. Think what Jesus could do if he had control and glory. Think how much more powerful his ministry would be. Henri Nouwen says that the temptations are to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.

The truth is that Jesus was human and was tempted by typical human temptations. It is what we all want. Fred Craddock says that “temptation indicates strength”. (Boy, I am strong!) And, yet, we are often uneasy with the whole idea of Jesus being tempted. After all, he was Jesus. He should have been above all that, right? Each temptation invites Jesus to turn away from trust in God in a different way. So maybe this wasn’t about the temptation at all, but was rather a lesson in trust, in perseverance, in resistance of those things that will surely get in the way of our lives. There is an emptiness in all of us that must be filled. We are met each and every day with offerings of things with which to fill it. Jesus affirmed that, yes, we would be met with these temptations, and, that, yes, God’s deepest desire is that our emptiness be filled with God. To be Christian or, actually, to be human, is to realize that that emptiness will never be filled without God. It is that for which it is made. And, really, what good would Jesus have really done us if he had been above it all, if he had never be tempted at all? Where would we be then? Jesus did not come to be a superhero above all that comes about; Jesus came as a human—as a you, as a me. Jesus came not so that we would be perfect but so that we would see what we were missing. After all, being relevant, or spectacular, or powerful are really overrated. Relevancy is short-lived; “spectacularness” is hard to maintain (after all, don’t you sometimes just want to go around in your warm-ups with no makeup?); and, as Lord Acton would tell, us, “power corrupts”. Jesus wasn’t showing us how NOT to be tempted; Jesus was just putting relevancy, spectacularness, and power in their proper places. Because, after all, when they’re gone, God is still waiting for us to return home.

But looking at it this way, the desert becomes the threshold through which we journey. It is a time for preparation, a time for readying oneself to claim who God calls you to be—God’s beloved child. And the only choice one has is to repent, to turn around, to change, to turn toward God.

Now, our version of the wilderness is sometimes very difficult to grasp. In our world of perfectly manicured lawns and perfectly coiffed houses, we usually do everything in our power to avoid wilderness in our lives. Wilderness means to us some sort of deprivation and, thus, a loss of power. We do everything we can to see that our lives stay exactly where we want them. We take a pill when we have a pain. We use cosmetics so that we won’t look our age. And who of us would ever be caught without access to a telephone? The wilderness is the thing that we are always trying to avoid. The wilderness does not fit into our carefully thought-out plans.

Jesus did not see deprivation but, rather, an emptying of himself before God. In fact, if you think about it, Jesus’ baptism propelled him into the wilderness. Maybe that’s our problem. Maybe we missed our wilderness. Maybe we missed our emptying. This emptying brings us in touch with what we really need—and nothing more. Without our pills and our cosmetics, our cell phones and our online calendars, we are vulnerable. Thank God! For when we are powerless, when we are vulnerable, where do we go? We look to the only place we know. Because even we, who are normally so in control of our lives, must look to the compass if we do not know the way. And there, we become acutely aware of God’s ever-presence. It is only when we have truly emptied ourselves that God can fill us with God and there we are nourished and fed by those things for which our souls truly hunger. From this we can grow in God’s spirit.

That’s what Lent is—it’s a pilgrimage through an intentional wilderness. These forty days are our emptying time—the time when we strip all of our preconceptions away and meet God where God is—right there with us. We do not walk this road alone. God is always there. And when we are tempted to once again take control, God will still be there. Lent is the time when we allow God to work on us that we might burst forth on Easter morning in radiant bloom. It is a time of journeying toward home.

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does temptation mean for you?
  3. Are you bothered by the notion of Jesus being tempted?
  4. What does this say to you about your own Lenten journey?
  5. What is uncomfortable about this whole image of the wilderness?
  6. What does the wilderness image mean for you?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. (Arundhati Roy)

 

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of this passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken, God-cursed Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope? Or is it the beginning of the true hope, which has been born again and can no longer be shaken? For me it is the beginning of true hope, because it is the beginning of a life which has death behind it and for which hell is no longer to be feared…Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. (Jurgen Moltmann)

 

The promised land lies on the other side of a wilderness.{Havelock Ellis}

 

Closing

 

Those of us who walk along this road do so reluctantly. Lent is not our favorite time of year. We’d rather be more active—planning and scurrying around. All this is too contemplative to suit us. Besides we don’t know what to do with piousness and prayer. Perhaps we’re afraid to have time to think, for thoughts come unbidden. Perhaps we’re afraid to face our future knowing our past. Give us the courage, O God, to hear your word and to read our living into it. Give us the trust to know we’re forgiven, and give us the faith to take up our lives and walk. Amen.

 

(“The Walk”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, by Ann Weems, p. 21)

And join me for a daily Lenten meditation at Dancing to God