Loaves

On this first Sunday in Lent, Christians around the world will hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  The movements of the story are familiar: the tempter makes an offer to Jesus three times, and three times Jesus rebuffs him.  Today, I wanted to take a moment to focus on the first interaction between Jesus and the devil:

The tempter came and said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”  (Matthew 4:3-4)

Jesus’ response is packed with meaning and recalls an important moment in Israel’s history.  After the tempter suggests that Jesus turn stones in to bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, recalling God’s provision of manna in the wilderness.  Jesus indicates that when we are in the wilderness, we are not meant to rely on cheap parlor tricks, but rather on the grace and mercy of God.  One also can’t help but hear echoes of Isaiah in Jesus’ response to the devil: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2).  Jesus points away from the empty and easy promises of mere satisfaction and toward the true fullness that comes from a relationship with God.

In spite of this, it’s hard not to fault Jesus in this situation.  After all, there are lots of hungry people in the world, and most of them are probably more interested in bread than they are in the words that come from the mouth of God.  Isn’t Jesus indulging in an unaffordable luxury by refusing to create food when he has the opportunity?

Just a few chapters after we hear Jesus refuse to make bread for himself, Matthew relates the story of the feeding of the multitude.  The striking thing about this story is not its miraculous nature, but the fact that Jesus shifts the perception of the gathered crowd.  When Jesus asks his disciples what they can share with the hungry people, they say, “Nothing…except for two fish and a few loaves.”  Jesus invites the people gathered in that wilderness to look at what they have in a new way, to understand that even when we have limited resources, we can share them with those in need.

imgresUltimately, Jesus does not turn stones into bread because that would accomplish very little; it would not feed anyone except Jesus.  But the next time he is in a deserted place and food becomes an issue, Jesus invites his disciples to share their meager lunch with the gathered multitude.  Jesus indicates that feeding the hungry is not an individual enterprise; it requires relationship.  In the same way, the process of becoming a faithful person is shaped within the context of community.  This morning, the Curate at Heavenly Rest reminded us that we’re not meant to go through Lent by ourselves, but rather within a community of people who are also struggling to be faithful.  When we gather around the bread of the Eucharist, I pray we will remember that our lives are not sustained only by loaves of bread, but by relationships with God and one another.

Opportunity

“When the devil finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.”  Luke 4:13

jesus temptationToday is the first Sunday in Lent, the day that we traditionally hear the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness.  Luke’s account mirrors that of Matthew: both stories feature the devil offering Jesus food, power, and protection, and both stories detail Jesus’ Scriptural refutation of the devil’s wiles.  There is, however, a significant difference between the two accounts.  While Matthew’s version concludes with angels waiting on Jesus, Luke’s version ends with an ominous prediction that the devil would return at an opportune time.  At the end of Matthew’s account, we get the sense that the devil has been defeated and that Jesus is clearly going to come out on top at the end of the story.  In Luke’s account, the devil is not a vanquished foe limping from the field of battle; he is a cunning strategist engaged in a tactical retreat.  This detail makes the story of Jesus’ temptation much more frightening; it leaves us wondering when the devil is going to make his next move.  The opportune time finally presents itself in Luke 22:3, when “Satan enters into Judas called Iscariot.”

People tend to reject the notion of Satan.  I think this is partially due to popular imagery.  Thanks to Dante and others, “Satan” connotes images of a horned figure with a goatee, cloven feet, and a tail who is the master of numerous demonic minions.  But “Satan” is actually a more generic title for one who is the “adversary,” the one who opposes, tempts, and challenges us in our journey through life.  In this sense, Satan can represent a whole variety of forces in our lives, including our pride, our hypocrisy, and our failure to care for those less fortunate than ourselves.  We are not called to deal with a particular satanic being, we are called to deal with all of those things in our lives that draw us away from God.  In many ways, this can be even more intimidating than the devilish character popular in books and movies.  Instead of looking for a specific foe, we are faced with the uncertain reality of destructive forces that constantly seek opportunities to draw us away from a relationship with God and other people.  Just as Satan is ominously lurking in the shadows in Luke’s gospel, these forces are constantly tempting us away from a life of grace.

The good news is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has dealt with the power of evil in this world.  Not only that, God equips us to deal with Satan and with those things that draw us away from the love of God on a daily basis.  Just as Jesus confronted Satan with the aid of prayer, Scripture, and discipline, we can deal with these adversarial forces through perseverance in prayer, the study of Scripture, and intentionality in our spiritual routines.  As our deacon pointed out in her sermon this morning, Lent is our opportune time to deal with the power of Satan.  Lent is the time that we remind ourselves that God has equipped each one of us to embrace God’s love and share it with others.  We are called to use Lent as an opportunity to examine those places in our lives that are susceptible to the forces of sin and death, deny their power, and renew our trust in God’s grace and love.