Sunday, 14 February 2016

In the wilderness on the Lord's Day

Only a few days into Lent comes the first respite from abstinence and fasting. The Lord's day celebrates the resurrection and is not intended to be a day of renunciation but affirmation. Yet, on the first Sunday of Lent the story is told of the sojourn of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days. The symbolic number of a sufficient and complete period of time has traditionally determined the length of the celebration of the seasons of incarnation and resurrection, as well as the season of penitence.

Jesus seeks solitude, and hunger to determine his own fitness and readiness for demanding years of ministry to come.  He is rendered vulnerable by extreme hardship. The story uses graphic images, depicting Jesus in dialogue with the devil (the original Greek word meaning 'one who divides'), probing his motives with three distinct challenges.

Jesus imagines what he is capable of if he truly is God's son. He could work miracles to benefit others. He could impress a great audience convincingly of his divine status. He could use his understanding of humanity to wield total power over the world's nations. But what would any of this ultimately achieve? Would these truly be the given means to realise God's rule on earth? He responds to the impulse to exploit his gifts even in a beneficial way, by recalling verses of scripture, that keep God the Father firmly in charge of his destiny.

'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matt 4:4)

Amidst all the desperate calls for aid from a needy world, the response is not driven by need. First comes trust in God's promises. Only from this trust emerge right responses to the cries of the needy.

Scripture is, however capable of ambiguity in its interpretation. The devil can also quote scripture, and uses cherished verses from Psalm 91:11-12 to suggest a ridiculous measure of immunity in risk-taking, as a means to prove who he is. There can be no good reason for impressing others by putting oneself in danger.

'It is written: do not put the Lord your God to the test' (Matt 4:7) is Jesus' response citing Deut 6:16.

The devil promises him all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus will but worship him. To do this would give 'divide and rule' an illusion of unity. God alone is one. In God all humankind, all nations are one, no matter what any may think about their own distinctiveness. Jesus dismisses the Accuser with a phrase appearing several times in the Torah. 

'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' (Deut 13:4)

Other texts equate reverence and fear with worship, but all make it clear where sovereignty lies. It's not with powers that divide but with the unique power that unites all creation, all people. All human powers and the responsibility of exercising them are the creator's gift to us. Our use of these gifts in any role we occupy poses to us the question; whose interests will be served here? Is this about our need or the need of others?

Some passages of scripture may seem irrelevant and so obscure as to be of no use to readers today. Even so, many key phrases of scripture are vital for Christian discipleship and the life of prayer. All point to the centrality of worshipping God and doing his will. Their relevance is made known to us as prayer life grows within us on our journey of faith. 

'Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path' (Psalm 119:105)

No comments:

Post a Comment