B9 LENT - Temptation
St. Luke 4.vv.1-13
~ Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone'." Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'." Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying 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 protect you', and, 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone'." Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'do not put the Lord your God to the test'." When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. ~
At the beginning of the season of Lent, where do we stand in imagination? Fifty years ago I stood at the site of Our Lord's Temptations, a most fitting place for self-examination and meditation. Join me there in imagination, and visualise the harshness of the wilderness in that deep cleft of the earth, the blue hills of Moab to the east, to the west the brown Judean heights, the River Jordan winding its way to the Dead Sea, and no sign of human habitation except an ancient Greek monastery clinging precariously to the cliff side.
What an awesome sight both then, and even more so in Jesus' day with the added dangers of brigands and wild beasts. Such is the place where we should stand in imagination at the beginning of Lent.
St. Mark tells us that Jesus was "driven" here by the Holy Spirit. But why, we may ask, and why "driven"?
At the outset of his ministry, the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Truth, provided Jesus with an opportunity to shed the encumbrances of the world, that he might discover for himself God's purpose for his life. But, we may ask, why "drove" - Matthew and Luke soften the word to "led", but "drove" expresses the divine compulsion to seek the will of God. For us, certainly, who are prone to inertia, sheer idleness, lack of will-power, fear, illusion and guilt, discipline is necessary if we are to hear and accept God's invitation to discover his purpose for our lives and the truth that sets us free. Many of us prefer the prison and constriction of our own petty lives to a freedom of life open to the Spirit. If we are to make spiritual progress in Lent, we shall need the Spirit to drive us.
The forty days for Jesus were a time of spiritual soul-searching, subject to the Spirit which "blows where it wills". In addition to a rigid self-disciplining, we should use our wilderness freedom to surrender to the Spirit of God, who loves us infinitely more than we can conceive.
In Lent, denying ourselves some of the pleasures of life may be for many a helpful discipline; but if it becomes an end in itself, it may become a purely negative and barren exercise. Lent is all about positive living, a deepening of our spiritual lives. If we have given up anything, it must surely be that we expend the extra time, effort and talents in a positive way by reading, prayer, meditation and service of others - thus deepening our spiritual lives. Lent, then, is about the freedom gained through exposure to the truth - a revelation of God's presence in our lives and in the world. What, then, of Lenten discipline? The answer is brief and very plain. Let us strip away all the clutter of this life and our own concerns at least for a while, and give ourselves space to listen to the Holy Spirit, and receive the pardon and peace which he gives.