First Sunday in Lent, Year A
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7,Romans 5:12-19,Matthew 4:1-11
Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape is a military training program better known as SERE. This training is offered to personnel who are at risk of capture or finding themselves behind enemy lines. A special period of time is set aside for these people to learn how to keep safe. The development of the program came out of interviews and lectures of military personnel who escaped from and evaded the Germans during World War II.
Spiritually speaking, and at certain times in our lives, we can feel as if we are behind enemy lines or in the wilderness. Spiritual dryness or what can be termed the Dark Night of the Soul is when we sense that there is a separation between us and God. This lack of spiritual feeling can lead us to question our faith. This dryness can occur in people who are deeply rooted in their faith. Both Mother Theresa and St. John of the Cross had spiritual dryness like this for decades at a time. But for the majority of us, spiritual dryness may be a sign that we need to deepen our spiritual practices. Much as the military personnel train to be in the wilderness and behind enemy lines, we need to train and practice our faith. This will allow us to draw from the well of resources when we feel dry, or at least it will hopefully get our spiritual juices flowing again. There is a song that starts like this,
“It’s the dark night of my soul
and temptation’s taking hold
but through the pain and the suffering
through the headache and trembling
I feel loved
I feel loved”(1)
In this song, “I Feel Loved,” by The English electronic band Depeche Mode, we hear of the suffering and sense of loss that comes with spiritual dryness, and temptation.
After Jesus’ baptism, he went to the wilderness and spent 40 days alone. We are not sure what he was doing for those 40 days, but my guess is that he was preparing for what lies ahead. This preparation was not only for his testing by Satan but preparation for what he encounters in his ministry. Much as the military personnel train in the wilderness so that when they find themselves behind enemy lines they will know what to do.
In the Gospel, Jesus finds himself with the devil. The devil tests or tempts him. Test and tempt are the same word in Greek but either way, he has choices and decisions to make. This is the way life is for us. Each day you will be tested and most days you are likely tested many times. I prefer to use the word test versus tempt because being tempted seems to narrow the scope of what is going on. To be tempted you need to have a certain amount of desire for what is being offered to you, but to be tested you do not, you just have a decision set before you. For example, if you are hungry and you are offered bread, this test is clearly temptation. On the other hand, to jump off of a building, may not be tempting at all. If you do not like mint ice cream and someone is trying to tease you with a bowl of mint ice cream you are not tempted to eat it. You may be tempted to find some other sort of ice cream but the mint just doesn’t do anything for you. I mention this not to diminish what Jesus went through but to look at our life in faith more holistically. The apostles said, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?” And Jesus replied, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”(2) So it is with us.
We pass people by all the time who need our help. Sometimes we are tempted to help them but we are in too much of a hurry and we continue on our way. Other times we are not tempted in the slightest, we just drive on by without a second thought or glance. Maybe this was a test and we just failed. We fail all the time when we see someone that we could help and we avoid it. So while the word temptation may fit the context of this story, test may be a better model for our lives.
Some scholars also prefer the idea that Jesus was tested and not tempted. By using his skills of self-awareness Jesus passed the tests which allowed him to successfully navigate similar tests in the future. He could have seen all the hunger in the world and made any number of objects into bread. If this is what he chose to do, People could come to him for food and there would no longer be hunger. He could have given into the power of the crowds he amassed and became the messianic ruler. As such he could have recreated government and society, but he
didn’t do this. Jesus could have gone off on his own, not listening to what the Father wants, but turning to his own powers. Yet again this is not what he did. Through his self-awareness, he didn’t give into what the devil was offering. Nor did he give into the people who offered him similar tests later in his ministry.
Jesus’ mission wasn’t to be a band-aid fix for the marginalized people. His mission wasn’t to be a political leader. His mission was to demonstrate to the world who God is, and God is love. In this love that God has for us, we realized that God loves all his people with the same love. And because of this love, we have a duty to help others, especially the marginalized; and to be involved in politics and to be in relationship with each other. This is why Paul uses the example of Adam in his illustration of Gods love and grace. At its most basic form, Adam and Eve is a story of how the earliest humans, through their curiosity and desires, fell into sin. The story portrays that from this point our human nature gives us the propensity to take actions that pull us away from God. This distancing ourselves from God is what we call sin, and sin led to death. Paul says since Adam, death exercised dominion over all of us, “just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
In Christ, there is a gift, a free gift given in grace. So from Jesus, this one man, comes justification or reconciliation of our sins. We do not deserve this gift any more than Jesus deserved to be killed. Whether we feel we are in the wilderness or not, we need to take time to prepare, much as the military prepares people in the SERE program. Lent is a defined period of time in which we can practice and train to follow Christ, receiving the free gift of righteousness by grace; so that we can have everlasting life and a closer relationship with God. With spiritual training, even through the pain and suffering, through the headache and trembling, we feel loved, we feel loved.
(2) Matthew 25:37,40