Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
“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), rather than a spectacular showoff (jump from pinnacle temptation), not a political ruler (kingdoms of the world 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. Whole peoples can also grapple with the test and transition, as the people of Egypt initially did in Tahrir square. Other nations tried to copy Egypt not realizing they need their own unique test. Some tests have failed, some have not. Can we as Americans in our own unique way do the same? Our failed foreign policy, that has led us to war, has been tested. Can we do better and pass the next test. Jesus came out of his desert with integrity. Can we now 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 “to be tempted” (Matthew 4:1) can also be translated “test,” “try,” or “attempt.”
Here are a couple examples of ordinary words turned into negative religious language. The word translated “devil” (Matthew 4:1) literally means “slanderer, accuser.” The word translated “Satan” (Matthew 4:10) literally means “adversary.” Satan was their term for the prosecuting attorney in a court of law.
Spirit, drive us deep
into our life’s desert way,
our true way testing.