March 6, 2022
Deuteronomy 36:1-11 Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13
Luke tells us that Jesus, after his baptism, is lead by the Spirit into the wilderness where he spends forty days and is tempted by the devil. Forty is a number used in the Bible to represent a long time. It rains upon the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. The people of Israel are in the wilderness for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. Forty is enough time to accomplish what is needed. Here, in Luke, it is for Jesus to overcome the temptation to be what people expect of the Messiah.
The people expect him to be a military leader who leads them into victory over their oppressor, the Romans, and restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory under King David. The people have one idea about what it means to be God’s chosen people, God has another. God calls us to be a light to lighten the world, an example of Godly love shared in abundance with all people – including our enemies and those who are different from us.
The temptations of Jesus are to turn from that which feeds our souls to earthly comfort, to become king over all the kingdoms of the world, and to put God to the test. Physical comfort, power, and testing God are temptations we also face. I have a long list of things I want, including foods I like to have in abundance and trips I want to take. All of these require money. Money is power. On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Spending my money on what I want and giving from what is leftover reflects a heart that is focused on myself and not others.
Then there is the ever-present temptation to test God. This is not something we do consciously, but I have seen people lose faith when something bad happens. They cannot understand how God could allow tragedies to occur to faithful people, like themselves, who try to do the right things. They pray to God for protection, they pray to God for healing – for themselves or those they love, and still, people they care about are injured or killed in accidents and crippled or killed by disease. They can’t understand why God does not intervene. Prayers with the expectations that God will grant what we desire is a form of testing God. It comes from a place of believing that God’s love is expressed through good health and prosperity.
Praying for protection from illness while neglecting to do what we can to prevent it is akin to treating God like a vending machine. If we enter enough money, if we say enough prayers, then God will give us what we desire. It is arrogant to approach God is such a manner.
A more subtle way of testing God is to give with the expectation of receiving more in return. We give to the church and charities with the belief that we will be rewarded with prosperity in this life or the next. This reduces our relationship with God to an exchange. It suggests a belief that we can manipulate God. The prophet Hosea tells the people what God desires, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Giving and prayer need to come from our hearts and we need to trust that God is with us.
One the names we associate with Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. People who believe God is with us through all the heartaches we must face in this life do not lose faith when tragedy occurs in their lives. People who test God’s love by expecting God to intervene, often experience a crisis of faith when God does not.
There is nothing wrong with telling God what we want, but to believe that if we pray hard enough God will grant our prayers is the equivalent of telling God what to do – and that doesn’t work. Prayers can help unburden our hearts from the pain and help feel God’s presence. Prayer can be, and needs to be, an expressionof our wants and desires rather than a demand. We can find God in the compassion expressed by the people around us, and we can find God in our hearts when we don’t use it as a test of God’s love for us.
Forty Days. Lent is observed for 40 days (not counting Sundays). It should be enough time for us to wrestle with our temptations to seek comfort for ourselves at the expense of helping others, to store up our treasures on earth, and to tell God what to do. It is enough time for us to listen, to truly listen and hear God’s call for us. What is it we are called to do at this point in our lives?
Though ritual sacrifices were an important part of the Jewish faith, the prophets proclaim God is more interested in what’s in our hearts. In the book of the prophet Micah, he challenges this ritual, by saying, “O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Other prophets, too, challenge the practice of sacrifices made without sincerity. Humility, not arrogance, is key to establishing a meaningful relationship with God and each other.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, you taught us to set aside time in our lives for prayer and fasting. Help us, we pray, to follow your example and use this time during Lent to re-examine our lives and our priorities that we might approach you with a humble and contrite heart. Then lead us, we pray, to see the work that is before us and to share your love with those in need. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.