Temptations of the Body of Christ

Today we have an amazing insight into a very personal test, a struggle of Jesus. All three synoptic gospels relate this event, but it happened when Jesus was entirely alone. So it must have been a painful memory he shared later with this friends.

From what we know from the gospels, this was one of the most draining experiences of his life, along with the agony in the garden and on the cross.

Both of those trials occurred at the end of Jesus’ ministry of teaching, but the story of the temptation in the desert occurs at the beginning. And it explains for us how Jesus chose to be Jesus. Because he contemplated three very different options.

First we heard that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. In other words, it wasn’t his idea. Perhaps confused about how to proceed with this life, Jesus opened his mind to the Holy Spirit and followed where he was led.

There, alone in prayer, Jesus considered how he might put to use his gifts in his life.

At first Jesus thought that he might use his power for himself. He could live easily by miraculously providing for his own needs, perhaps even luxuriously, so that he could concentrate all his effort on his message. I sounds reasonable. It would certainly be efficient; Jesus could maximize his time in teaching. Nothing wrong with that. But Jesus rejected this path. It was not who he was meant to be.

What if he were to have vast earthly power, and could command people to do the right thing under pain of law? He would be the most benevolent of dictators, ruling the entire world by demanding conformity with the law of God. But Jesus rejected this path. It was not who he was meant to be.

So Jesus realized he was no on earth for himself, and though he was here to announce the Kingdom of God, his kingdom was not to be one of force. But what if he we to get people to do the right thing by manipulation? He could pull spectacular stunts, like throwing himself off the highest point of the city when it was packed with pilgrims, so they would see angels prevent his death. Certainly that would be a dramatic way to get people to believe and do what he said. Everyone would notice that! But Jesus rejected this path. It was not who he was meant to be.

Faced with the options of taking care of number one, demanding obedience, and emotional manipulation, Jesus chooses a different way, which we hear about right after this episode in the Gospel of Luke, when he goes to the synagogue in Nazareth and announces that he has been sent to free the captive, to unchain the oppressed, to let those of us who are blind to see.

There are lessons here for us as a Church and as individuals.

We have seen Church leaders who looked out for themselves. They have tried to command rather than inspire. They have sought to manipulate God’s people emotionally. They have done all this and worse.

But lest we sit here and cluck with disapproval, we must also confess that each of us has done the same.

We have each used God’s gifts for our personal gain. We have tried to force people to do what we thought was best for them by threats and punishments. We have tried to bend others to our will by emotional blackmail and self-indulgent melodrama. We have done all this and worse.

This is a rough stone. It represents that stony heart inside each of us that needs to be turned into a heart of flesh, that needs its rough surface worn down and made smooth.

Each of you will get a stone in a moment. Take it home. Consider what it is that the Spirit is leading you to become. And bring the stone to our reconciliation service March 5. There you will be able to leave it behind, and be set free.

This stone reminds me of the song “By My Side” from Godspell.

Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold
And needs warmth
Where are you going?

Far beyond where the horizon lies
Where the horizon lies
And the land sinks into mellow blueness
Oh please, take me with you
Let me skip the road with you

I can dare myself (I can dare myself)
I can dare myself (I can dare myself)
I’ll put a pebble in my shoe
And watch me walk (watch me walk)
I can walk
I can walk!

I shall call the pebble Dare
I shall call the pebble Dare
We will talk about walking
Dare shall be carried
And when we both have had enough
I will take him from my shoe, singing
“Meet your new road!”

Then I’ll take your hand
Finally glad
That you are here (you are here)
By my side

Lent is here. Can we let the Holy Spirit lead us into the desert, where we can throw these demons from our shoulders and emerge free and ready to set others free? Because if we are indeed the Body of Christ, that’s what we’re meant to do.

Brothers and sisters, welcome to the desert. Who will you be when you finally emerge at the end of these 40 days?

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