Lent 1: Temptations

Matthew 4:1-11

 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’4 But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ 7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 

Temptation is messy. It's ambiguous. It's unpredictable. What might be a temptation one day could very easily become a non-issue the next. I know that's how it is for me. Recognizing temptation requires self-awareness. In order to recognize when I'm being tempted by something, I have to know what the deeper message of that temptation is. Why do I want to lie? Why am I so angry? Why do I objectify someone in whom I might find sexual attraction? The list of questions goes on and on, but in every case, I can only know I'm being tempted when I know myself.

My biggest temptation lately has been to run. Run from God. Run from conflict. Run from difficult, possibly unanswerable questions. Run from family with whom I have very little in common. Run from my partner when we're not feeling very connected. Run from my call to ministry because living it out can feel too difficult. And so this Lenten season, I'm doing my best to stand or to sit instead of running. To stand firm in what I believe and what I know to be true. To sit with myself and with God, shut up, and listen for the ways in which God is calling me to more authentically be the person I was created to be.

Temptation is different for every person. Sometimes we face big temptations. Other times our temptations feel miniscule and insignificant. In my experience, temptation almost always functions in the same way: it tells us to be something other than our absolute best, something other than our true selves. My true self is honest even when it hurts, and so I often face the temptation to be dishonest. My true self sees the beauty, value, and worth in every single person I encounter, so the temptation to negate or ignore the humanity of another either by means of lust, anger, or even envy can and does surface. My true self believes taking care of my physical, spiritual, and emotional health is important, but my false self tempts me to smoke, overeat, become spiritually cynnical or hard-hearted, or sink into deep depression.

When we examine Jesus' experience in the passage above, he faces three temptations: food, fatality, and future. He was hungry. He may have felt that God had abandoned him. He may have felt that he was being used, coerced into becoming God incarnate, relinquishing his power, and comeing down here to rescue us from ourselves. Apart from the food, Jesus probably had no challenge recognizing the subtext of the enemy's rhetoric. But he still had to know himself to know why each of these things was a temptation, to know why the enemy decided to use these three allures to draw him out of his time of discernment and discovery.

So here's my challenge to you for the next 40 days: know yourself. Take time to listen in the silence and discover something about who you truly are at your very best, and embrace it. Listen for God's voice to affirm the best parts of yourself, and be thankful. Look around and notice the ways in which you are most often tempted. What do those temptations tell you about your true self, your best self, your created self? How do they attempt to make you into someone you're not. These next 40 days are all about listening: listening to others, listening to yourself, and listening to God.

Let yourself be tempted to listen. It's one temptation worth giving into.