First Sunday in Lent, Year B, RCL
1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
We all know the wilderness. Even if we haven’t spent time in it, we know of its dangers. Animals that bring us fear, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes, bear, and so on. Now we tend to go to the wilderness of our own accord, not forced. If we enjoy camping and being outdoors we go willingly while others of us avoid it at all cost. But today, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness. Christ emerges from the waters of baptism, the Spirit descends like a dove, God calls out and announces to all that Jesus is his well-beloved. And immediately, while still dripping wet, the Spirit drives him into the wilderness. He is driven out much in the same way as we hear Christ driving out unclean spirits. For Christ, I wonder if the wilderness is full of things he also would rather avoid. There are wild beasts, but there is something even more heinous, temptation. Temptation is much like a reflection that we do not want to see. We are tempted to look, but we obvert our eyes from what makes us uncomfortable.
This is not what Christ does. He looks directly at his temptation. He stares into it as if it was a
mirror. He doesn’t give into it but he looks and ponders at what he finds. In confronting his temptation he can make the decision to understand where the temptation is coming from. Beyond the temptation coming from the Devil, the temptations had to touch a part of Christ’s desires; maybe the desires that come from Jesus’ fully human side.
Without a desire for what is offered then there is no temptation at all. Just think of a spoon which contains the food you like least. It would hold no temptation. You will not eat in here or there. You would not eat it in a box or with a fox. You will not eat it anywhere.[i] On the other hand, if you are told you cannot have a spoonful of your favorite food you may have more trouble resisting. And even if you do resist you may notice your desire pulling you closer to the food.
Christ was tempted. He had to have some desire for what was being offered to him; else there is no temptation. Yet he rejects the temptations because they do not fit into his mission. They do not fit into who he is, what he came to do. He was self-aware enough to know if he gave into the temptations he would be a different person.
You, me, your parents, sibling, friends, and neighbors, don’t naturally have the constitution that Christ demonstrates. We see our desires as a reflection in a mirror. Yet we often want to obvert our eyes or turn the mirror around. But this doesn’t let us face what or why we are tempted. We know the temptation is still there just waiting for us. Other times we may look into the mirror, hoping that a deep look will satisfy our need; making it easier to turn away. But we know from experience this is not what happens either. Often our temptation becomes harder. Now that we looked up close we can see that hot melted cheese on the slice of pizza or cheeseburger. We can smell it and all but taste it. There is almost no turning back as we feel our moth moisten just waiting to take a bite.
We are tempted each day by many real sins. We don’t need to create artificial sins in our lives, in which we give up a favorite food. Chocolate and just about any other food is not sinful unless you are being gluttonous. We are not here to simply mimic Jesus’ wilderness experience. We like Jesus are preparing for a journey to follow God’s will. To be who God made us to be.
In our baptism, we have made many promises to God, though we do not keep them to the extent we should. We have promised to renounce all sinful desires. To put our whole trust in Christ’s grace and love. To follow and obey him as our Lord. We have made a covenant in which we said we will continue in the apostles’ teachings and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We have teaching, fellowship, and prayers. We have proclaiming the Good News by word and example. We said we would seek and serve Christ in all persons. We have a myriad of ways in which we can redirect our life to follow our Lord more deeply.
In lent, many will give up chocolate or some other trivial thing as a spiritual practice. But I’d ask, what impact does that make in their life; their spiritual life, or in their walk with Christ? How does an act of trivial fasting impact our neighbors; to help us walk with them or to be in closer relationship with them? Having a Lenten practice which creates artificial sin just to eliminate it is not a pious practice. It is a practice of self-indulgence in which we give up a teeny tinny piece of luxury so we, at the end of our 40 days, can say we are a better person.
Where is the beef, where is the change in our lives by such a practice? In Lent we are called to scrutinize our lives, to take on a practice or habits that create distance or prevent us from being the person who God made us to be. We have fear of the wilderness, our own inner wilderness. We tend not to go there because we are afraid of what we might find deep within us. We would rather go on the way we have been going day after day, year after year without disturbing our conscience.
When we take on a Lenten practice in which we strive for change, we have to work at it. Some days it will be hard; because life gets in the way; other days we may make excuses. This is similar to going to the gym; until the habit is formed, consistency can be difficult. Yet it is also like the gym, in which a daily workout will produce noticeable results. You will find that you are closer to God. You may have a clearer understanding as to how you fit into his plans. I don’t know anyone who has taken on a spiritual practice and later found it to be a complete waste of time.
Don’t be afraid of your inner wilderness. Whether it is temptation or a lack of prayer; face it head on. Acknowledge that it exists and remember that you are not alone. The ang
els are here to help you. Christ is here to lead you. Look in and ponder what you find so that you can journey more faithfully in your life with Christ and be the person who God made you to be.
[i] Dr. Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham, 1960