Here we are, back in the season of Lent. Another 40-something days of fasting and praying, with no more “alleluias” until Easter. The season is an opportunity to look inward: to acknowledge our human nature, and to recognize how badly we need God in our lives. Just like last year, on this first Sunday of Lent we hear the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Each time he is tempted, Jesus responds with a scriptural quote. If only temptations in our own lives could be avoided so easily! Just quote the bible, and everything is instantly better.
For many of us, the world shouts these temptations every day. If only you had more money. If only you weren’t offended so easily. If only you had a better job or a bigger house. If only you were taller or shorter, younger or older. If only you had the newest model car, or iPhone, or whatever it is.
Let’s be honest though: we sometimes have similar thoughts about “those people.” If only they worked harder. If only they weren’t so dependent or lazy. If only they drove faster or slower on the Turnpike or Parkway. If only they spoke our language, or listened to our music, or worshiped our God, or whatever it is.
The world seems to constantly tell us that we aren’t enough, and some days, without even noticing, we respond by telling others that they aren’t enough either. But in this gospel reading, we recognize that the Spirit leads us into some uncomfortable places every day of our lives. That’s the curious thing about this reading, isn’t it? Jesus ends up in the wilderness because the Spirit leads him there.
Yet remember – right before Jesus is sent out in the wilderness, God proclaims, “You are my child, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” Then, full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus proclaims good news amid the wilderness. He proclaims that God’s story is true amid a sea of doubt. He declares that God’s promises are being fulfilled here and now.
If only we believed that we were enough and dearly loved by God. If only we believed that others were enough and dearly loved by God, too. If only we lived each day proclaiming God’s story as truth. If only we declared that God is at work in the world, right here and right now.
The last line of this gospel reading is so important: “the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been given forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In fact, we gather each week to remember and celebrate those promises. However, that doesn’t mean the temptations don’t come back. Those opportunities will arise, and hordes of devils will fill the land, threatening to devour us. And of course, those “if only” statements will be heard – and said – countless times in these next 40-something days.
Yet we hold fast to those promises of old. Our hunger will be satisfied, so we feed others. Our shortcomings are forgiven, so we forgive others. Our dignity is seen and acknowledged, so we see and acknowledge the dignity of others. That’s what Lent can look like. That’s what discipleship can looks like. That’s what life can look like.
During this season, we are invited to notice all the ways we hurt ourselves and each other. So, in the next 40-something days, be kind to yourself and others. And when you feel tempted by those devils – which you will – remember that God is the refuge in whom we trust. For all who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.
Thanks be to God.