Lent begins on March 1st this year. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we will mark the beginning of our journey with a Service of Ashes in Hebron House at 7:00 pm. Then on Sunday, we begin a journey through some of the gospel readings from the Lectionary that will lead us towards celebrating Easter.
The first of these is Matthew 4:1-11, a passage which speaks about the temptations of Jesus. Oscar Wilde one wrote “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it... I can resist everything but temptation.” Jesus encouraged us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”
We sometimes to think of temptation as being about the kind of daily indulgences and failings that touch upon our lives. Things like chocolate or fine wine, gossip or little white lies. Temptations can be viewed as either trivialities that really don't matter or as guilty pleasures that we secretly desire.
For Jesus the temptations were far more sinister and had little to do with fleeting desires, but were related to the way we live out our whole lives. They challenged values that, though often accepted by the world at large, provide a shaky foundation for building a spiritual life.
It has been suggested that the first temptation, to turn stones into bread, had little to do with either stones or bread, but was about the desire to find a quick fix. There is a contemporary ring to that suggestion. I have observed that people wish to find biblical answers, but hesitate to be involved with in depth bible study, they wish for God to answer their prayers; but do not really want to develop a prayer life. People enjoy soundbites but have no desire to hear whole sermons. The bad news is that there are no quick fix solutions. A little bit of bread does not satisfy the soul. “Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Then there's that temptation for Jesus to throw Himself off the temple and be seen to be rescued by angels. “Do not put the Lord Your God to the test” says Jesus. In an age when the cult of celebrities dominates the headlines, to join their ranks may seem like an answer to all our insecurities and failings. How great it would be to have people hanging on our every word simply on the basis of having pulled off a great performance. Sadly, the pressure of a life in the spotlight is often glaringly obvious. Excess. Unfaithfulness. Abuse. You know the stories! Isolated spectacular achievements do not make for a life of spiritual growth.
Finally, there's that Devilish temptation to simply go along with the way everybody else does things... the way of the world. To live as though one's faith was not really related to the every day dilemmas and decisions we all face. Forget about your beliefs and just do as you please. Because that's what everybody else does. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” counteracts Jesus.
Of course there are many other ways of interpreting these temptations. As you travel the Lenten road there are many opportunities for prayer, reflection and worship. Make the most of them. Why? Because we all have a lot to learn!
For some music... Larry Boy and the Bad Apple: Temptation Song (with lyrics). Yes. I know. Not everybody is a Veggie Tales fan. But it fits the theme! Enjoy.
Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.