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Lent 1 A ~ "Temptation" ~ Susan McGurgan



At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.


Anyone who has wandered in a desert knows it can be

both beautiful and perilous.

Stark,

and at the same time,

filled with life.


Anyone who stands in the wilderness

stands in a place of both

challenge and reward.


If you look at art work

illustrating “The Temptation of Christ”

you will often see “Temptation”

pictured as a demon—

a twisted, hideous figure

with pointed horns and cloven hooves.


Sometimes, the artist shows The Tempter

with talons instead of hands,

leering at Christ

and pointing to a pile of stones

just waiting to become bread.


In one medieval Dutch painting,

Temptation is a creature with a beaked nose

and clawed feet—

a devil that looks

for all the world

like a demented turkey

from your worst

"After Thanksgiving Overindulgence" nightmare.


In these images,

there is absolutely no ambiguity

about the nature of evil.

Evil is both obvious and obscene.

The Tempter is malice personified

and the loneliness and perils of sin

are clearly–

even brutally—

drawn.


But outside of the world of a painting,

Temptation is not always that simple,

is it?

I mean,

isn’t that the very problem with evil?

The fact that it can appear so ordinary?

So unremarkable?

So inviting?


It would be easy to resist temptation

if temptation always appeared ugly and grotesque—

something so alien,

so horrific,

that one glimpse—

one peek--

would be enough to set us free.


If the urge to abuse power

or an impulse to exploit the weak

suddenly took shape before our eyes

bearing the ugly face of an imp

or the scent of a rotten beast,

then our impulses might become different.


If bad choices were pointed out to us

by sharpened talons and a vicious leer,

then our choices might become wiser.


If Temptation stalked around on goat’s feet

leaving a trail of cloven prints,

then sin might become something

that we could simply step over and avoid.


Unfortunately for us,

the desire to put God to the test

or the urge to betray a friend

is rarely followed by the smell of sulphur

or the sound of clashing cymbals.


It is only in the movies

that ominous music and dim lighting

announce the presence of evil.


One modern illustration of the Temptation in the Desert

is an African painting filled with bright colors

and soft golden light.

It shows Christ walking with a companion—

Temptation—

on a cliff overlooking the desert.

The Tempter stands,

his arm around the Lord’s shoulder,

talking earnestly,

eagerly,

as one dear friend to another.


His handsome face is like any other face,

In fact,

his face looks a lot like Christ’s.

Or yours.

Or mine.


This artist has captured something

powerful

about the power of temptation.

That it is just so….

well,

tempting.


Just this once—

Just until I get my promotion.

It’s not like I’m actually stealing her proposal...

She’s too junior in the firm

to be taken seriously.

She'll never be able to sell it to the team,

much less carry it out.

That great idea will just be wasted

unless I take it and run with it.

I’ll make it up to her later,

when I am in a better position.


Well, their influence got me elected,

and the important thing is to stay in office

so that I can continue to help the poor.

I guess this one vote

doesn’t really matter so much…


And what’s so bad

about turning stones into bread, anyway?

Sounds like a pretty good plan to me!


Far from being ugly,

or frightening,

or laden with a sense of impending doom,

temptation is often attractive

at least at the start.

There are even times

when it is hard to separate the seduction of evil

from the ministering hands of the angels

or the urgings of the Holy Spirit.


It hardly seems fair,

does, it?


Fair or not,

Jesus knew all about temptation.

He was the anointed one,

Son of God,

filled with the Spirit,

and yet,

even Jesus was led into the desert

to be tempted by evil.


Before his 40 days in the desert ended,

Jesus would be offered power,

riches,

fame,

personal comfort.

He would be tempted to test God.


His time in the desert

was an invitation to reflect on his call;

to examine his relationship with the Father.

It was a time to come face to face—

not only with the idols that would tempt him,

and the demons that might haunt him,

but with the Spirit that stood ready to

form and comfort him.


In meeting those temptations head on,

Jesus embraced

not only his Father’s love,

but each one of us who wanders in the desert,

stepping over cloven footprints in the path.


By meeting those temptations head on,

Jesus teaches us the true meaning

of words like “authority”,

and “kingdom”,

and “power.”


Jesus didn’t avoid the desert.

He didn’t avoid the hunger.

He didn’t avoid the loneliness

or the trials

or the temptations.

He didn’t hide from encounters with evil.

Rather,

he used these challenges to define who he was…

and who he wasn’t.


For Jesus,

the time of temptation

became a time of formation—

A time of preparation

for his mission into the world.


During this season now beginning,

we are given the same opportunity.

We are led into the desert

to make that same life-giving journey.

Along the way,

we will find temptations and opportunities,

demons and angels,

sin and grace.

Along the way,

we will encounter Christ himself.


On this journey,

our choices will begin to define who we are…

and who we aren’t.

It can prepare us for our own mission--

that of bringing this Story,

this Life,

this Bread,

this Encounter

to the waiting, hungry world.


Journeys are never simple things.

They tend to take us to places and people

who will challenge us,

tempt us,

form us,

and comfort us.


And, no matter how deep our faith,

along the way,

bad choices may continue to look good.

Power can still seduce.

And temptation will persist in being…

well,

very, very tempting.


But when Jesus met his own temptations

head on,

He transformed the wilderness journey,

and our lives,

Forever.

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