Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
“It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations.” – Walter Bagehot
Jesus was in the desert for forty days, just as Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, just as Noah was in his boat for forty days. The list goes on. In the bible the number forty is symbolic of a time of transition. In this case Jesus is transitioning from his private to his public life. His transition involved temptations. Temptations are not always just lures to evil or to selfish actions. They can also be a proving ground, a testing to discover who we truly are. (see Greek below) Jesus discovered that his identity was to be found in serving others and not himself (stones to bread temptation), in being a spiritual leader not a political ruler (kingdoms of the world temptation), in using power to save others rather than a spectacular showoff (jump from pinnacle temptation). These temptations helped him to gain confidence and to move forward with integrity. They were good for him. Now we are beginning our forty days of Lent, our symbolic time to realize that we also must embrace the test and transition to our ever evolving selves. Not only individuals but whole peoples can also grapple with the test and transition. Many nations are doing this, the United States included, as they discover their identity as they slowly move out of the test of war and low employment. Some nations want to copy others, not realizing they need their own unique test. We as Americans in our own distinctive way can profit from our testing. The test, no matter how hard, can be good for us. Our failed foreign policy, that has led us to war and economic down turn has been tested. Jesus came out of his desert with integrity. We now can come out of our desert with renewed integrity. We as individuals and we as a nation are deeply in need of these upcoming forty days.
The Greek word usually translated “tempted” as in Jesus “was tempted” (Luke 4:2) can also be translated “test,” “try,” or “attempt.”
Here is an example of an ordinary word turned into negative religious language. The word translated “devil” (Luke 4:2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 13) literally means “slanderer, accuser.”
Spirit, drive me deep
into my desert life line,
my true way testing.