14 Feb 2016
“[Jesus] was led by the Spirit in the wilderness where for forty days he was tempted.” (Luke 4:1-2) In the name …
I know this is the First Sunday of Lent, but Christmas wasn’t all that long ago this year. That sort of helps us to better understand this morning’s Gospel. It is the temptation account from Luke. Luke’s Gospel starts off with the Christmas story of the shepherds. Then it lets about a decade pass by before it tells us the only story we have about Jesus as an adolescent. For a second time more than a decade passes and now we hear about Jesus’ baptism by John. It is at this point that Luke then tells us about Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam, the “son of God” with a small “s.” All of these stories accumulate to let us know that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God with a capital “s.”
Luke first tells us that Jesus is the Son of God and then today how Jesus is tested as the Son of God. Mark is the oldest of the four Gospels and his temptation of Jesus lasts a whole two verses. Luke’s, as we just read, is 13 verses long. There is obviously more than one version of the story floating around in the earliest church and some are more elaborate than others. No one was out there with Jesus. What we’re reading is not a news report with a camera on the scene. It definitely appears, however, that Jesus did retreat into the seclusion of the desert to sort things out, and for lack of a better phrase, to find Himself. For Jesus what did it mean exactly when after His baptism God in heaven revealed to Him: “‘You are my Son …’” (3:22)? It is not hard to imagine why Jesus would need time alone in order to work through this sort of realization. The temptation in the desert is real, but it is the job of the literary details to try and help us understand the incomprehensible. What in the world would the temptation of the Son of God be like? How in the world are we ordinary humans to ever comprehend what the Son of God had to process in the confines of the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth so that He could come to grips with who He truly was and what He was called to do to save the world?
On Thursday scientists from Cal Tech and MIT announced that they had discovered actual evidence of gravitational waves. They say this is as big as when Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens. These waves have been theorized for a century, but no one had ever detected one. It’s not surprising since a gravitational wave stretches and squeezes our entire Milky Way galaxy by the width of my thumb – the entire galaxy. I’ve seen a picture of Einstein’s notebook with the equation for gravitational waves. It may as well have been the wall-scribblings of a two year old. It made no sense to me. But then come along people a whole lot smarter than I, and they give examples from daily life and draw cool graphics, and I can start to begin to understand what they’re talking about. This is what Luke is trying to do for us with his story of the temptation in the wilderness.
Luke is trying to make Jesus’ incredible and indescribable inner turmoil manageable for us. The purpose of the fantastic images of the devil flying Jesus through the air and standing Him on top of a Temple tower in downtown Jerusalem are no different than when scientists try to explain gravitational waves to the rest of us who don’t have a clue what the math means by saying stuff like: “It’s like turning a silent movie into a talkie because these waves are the soundtrack of the cosmos. Until this moment we had our eyes on the sky, but we couldn’t hear the music.” So let’s not fixate on the fantastic images. Instead, let’s imagine what they’re trying to explain to us.
The refusal of Jesus to turn stone into bread may sum-up Jesus’ temptation to take advantage of the miraculous instead of the hard work of the gospel. I remember watching a Star Trek episode as a kid when the Enterprise re-discovered the extraordinary beings who were once worshiped on earth as the Greek gods. Miracles were once enough to lead to devotion, but that didn’t last. The second temptation of worldly power is easy to envision since Jesus and His people were surrounded and conquered by the despised Roman army. How natural it would have been for Jesus to see Himself as a national hero if He could liberate Israel. And the third temptation of a grand and heavenly sign performed at the Temple would have silenced all of His enemies. Throughout the Gospels we hear of the clamour for a sign from heaven to prove Jesus’ authenticity. How tempting it must have been for Jesus to do just that.
Jesus, in other words, had to get away and figure out what God expected of Him, and I think the Jesus of the first day would have been surprised by the Jesus of the 40th because the temptations were real to Jesus, but rejected. The Jesus who went out into the wilderness looked the same as the one who came back out, but He saw things differently. It’s Lent so we’re supposed to read the Bible more. Read the beginning of the Gospels and listen to what John the Baptist was preaching. Jesus before the 40 days may have been a part of this community around John. Then read and listen to any of the words that Jesus preaches after the 40 days. Jesus sees the world differently. About ten days ago I went and had my eyeglass frames adjusted. They were already old frames. Then last Sunday I was cleaning them and I think because of the adjustment they cracked in half right in my hand. Now I’m wearing an old and weaker prescription for a few more days so if you see me bumping and stumbling around remember that I gave up adult beverages for Lent and it’s just the glasses. Lent is our prescription-upgrade. Lent helps us to see things more clearly through the lens of our faith, to see things more like Jesus sees things.
Even Jesus needed the solitude, prayer, fasting and sacrifice of the wilderness for His 40 days in order to find His spiritual path. May our 40 days of the same help us to find ours. Let us use the opportunities of Lent to see Christ and our spiritual selves better. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo