During Lent we focus our attention to resisting temptation, repentance, and the Passion of Jesus.
Sunday’s Gospel Reading reminds us that our capacity to repent and to resist temptation comes from our relationship with God and his grace rather than from our strength alone.
We live in a world of competing stories. In such a world, we must know the story of Salvation in order to resist the false stories that seek to take us captive. The Gospel Reading is the familiar story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness. As we read Luke’s version, we can see two competing stories: the story that Jesus taps into in order to resist the devil and successfully navigate the temptations laid before him and the narrative the devil presents.
The Gospel passage takes place in two significant locations: the wilderness and Jerusalem. Historically, the wilderness was the place where God met the Jewish people at Sinai after rescuing them from Egypt. In the wilderness God shaped them into his covenant people. But there is a contrast. Despite God’s provision and guidance, Israel was not always faithful and did not pass the testing satisfactorily. Jesus, on the other hand, completed the time of testing, remaining true to his vocation as Son of God.
Jerusalem, the city of David, is the center of Jewish power, identity, and worship. This place of power and worship is the location for the final temptation.
Underlying the dialogue between the devil and Jesus are two competing storylines. The devil offers a storyline of self-indulgence (make yourself bread from stones), self-aggrandizement (all the nations of the world will belong to you if you worship me), and self-serving religious identity (if you are the son of God cast yourself from the top of the temple). Jesus responds with quotations drawn from the Old Testament that show awareness of the true story and source of life and identity (he knows that life is more than food), his reliance on God (the one worthy of true worship and service), and his understanding of God’s character (not one to be tested). Jesus’ responses are rooted in the underlying narrative that he is dependent on God rather than self for life, glory, and identity.
Both Jesus and the devil quote Scripture but Scripture must be read rightly in light of God’s nature and the life envisioned for his people. Such a life is rooted in God’s everlasting covenant and a response of faithful obedience to God rather than in self-reliance, which is the devil’s story.
Jesus was tested concerning his baptismal vocation as the Son of God (“You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased..” Luke 3:22). He was obedient to the course upon which he had been set by his baptism in the Jordan. Likewise, we who are Jesus’ followers are often tested concerning our baptismal vocation. Through baptism we are called to be obedient, faithful, and to serve the Lord alone. But our faith is tested in the course of our lives, from birth to death. There is comfort in knowing, however, that God remains faithful, even when we fail.
The connection between Jesus’ testing and our own was recognized by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. (4:15-16)
O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the Promised Land. Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, now and forever. Amen.