Gospel: Luke 4:1-13 1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus goes out into the wilderness, led by the Holy Spirit. The story tells us that he was there for forty days and forty nights during which he ate nothing at all. My snarky side wants to know just how much excess body tissue he must have had in order to survive that long with no food, but the truth is that 40 is one of those biblical words that can be literal or symbolic, and that the length of time in this story is not the point for which the story is given. The point is the temptations, temptations that we can understand because they are exactly what we might expect.
We know from other stories in the Bible that Jesus multiplied a few loaves of bread to feed thousands and thousands of hungry people, so, knowing he is hungry, it makes sense that he would be tempted to turn those stones, stones that might even be shaped a bit like a loaf of bread, into actual bread.
We also know, not only from the stories in the Bible, but also from the news we read and hear that the various countries of this world are not exactly peaceful, or united, or even respectful of any deity at all. It makes sense that Jesus would be tempted to seize control of all the nations of the world, to take away the choices humanity had been given—but that would have made him no different from the devil who was offering to him such glory and authority.
Finally, since Jesus has the power of God at his disposal, we know that he need not fear the fall if he were to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Even if the angels were not to catch him, he could have caught himself. It makes sense that Jesus would be tempted to reacquire the powers he had set aside to become one with humanity, to prove he still had it, to revel in that power—rather than enduring the pangs of hunger, the weariness of humanity.
Temptations that come to us might be a bit different. Some are tempted to cheat on their taxes. Some are tempted to quit when things get difficult. Some are tempted to steal, or to abuse, or to neglect, or to debase… whatever! Temptations come to all of us.
Today, I’d like us to consider the source of temptation. In today’s story, we are told that the devil came to Jesus and presented all those temptations to him when he was hungry and probably tired—maybe a bit vulnerable. When’s the last time the devil came to you and did the same?
Some make the claim that there actually is no devil, that temptations always just come from inside, from the human condition, from our desires to have or get more than we’ve got.
I remember seeing a couple of movies long ago where the devil is actually a main character. One had the image of that devil indistinguishable from the image of God, played by the same actor. I believe that one was titled, “Oh, God, You Devil!” C. S. Lewis wrote about the devil in “The Screwtape Letters,” but that was more about one of the devil’s peons than the actual devil, and it was even more about the people being tempted than it was about the peon.
I wonder how much it matters what the source of the temptation is. Whatever the source, we still need to decide whether to follow that temptation or to deny it. When we deny the temptation, it’s done, and we don’t even need to consider it any longer.
It’s when we postpone it, or fall to it, that we start looking for excuses.
When we’ve failed, we’d rather not shoulder the entire blame for our failure. It seems easier if we can shift at least part of the blame to someone else. It’s easier to say, “It’s her fault.” It’s as old as the third chapter of the first book in our Bibles. When God comes into the garden after Eve and Adam have eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve blames the serpent. Adam blames Eve—and God, because God is the one who’d presented Eve to Adam in the first place.
Yet, no one forced the fruit into the mouths of either one of them. No one forced them to chew and swallow. In the end, each ate willingly.
We want to be able to say, “The devil made me do it,” as if that reduces our responsibility for behaving badly. And we want the source of temptation to be outside ourselves, because we believe that, too, reduces our responsibility, or our fault, for doing the wrong thing.
We might also want to share the blame a bit when someone we love or want to impress encourages to do what we know or suspect is less than righteous. That’s what often happens when groups get caught up in the bullying culture. It’s what happens within certain firms, or frats, or clubs. It’s what happens even in churches, when we care more about impressing the right people than about doing what is right.
Years ago, I remember confession in church including words like, “by my fault, by my own most grievous fault.” I’m not sure how helpful that was, to weigh us down in all that guilt. Today, most of our confessions have gone the opposite direction, avoiding any mention of guilt or fault. I’m not sure if that’s better or much the same, on the other end of things.
Actually, the source of temptation, even when temptation comes through someone we love, really should not change our response. It’s just that sometimes, there is no perfect response. Jesus seems to have had perfect responses in today’s story, but sometimes, with some temptations, and in some circumstances, no response is perfect. Someone is going to be hurt no matter what you do.
So, we act in whatever way we believe is best, or we don’t. Either way, we trust. We trust that God will not condemn us, that God will acknowledge us as children within God’s family, and that God will continue to work to inspire us toward a more godly future.
After all, who cares if it’s the devil or your grandmother tempting you to behave badly, the consequences are the same, and God’s forgiveness and inspiration are just as sure.
Let us then move forward, doing our best to respond to temptations in the best ways that we can, always trusting in God’s guidance and salvation, in Jesus’ name. Amen