Sunday 9th March 2014
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11
Matthew’s Gospel takes us on the journey from Jesus’ baptism to his testing in the desert. We read after fasting forty days and forty nights ‘he was hungry’. This is not just stating the physically obvious - but we see that Jesus is empty and vulnerable. The desert is the place where we see Jesus goes from hearing the Father’s affirmation and public recognition in baptism to a place of isolation, threat, vulnerability and an assault of identity.
The devil brings the three temptations of which two begin with “If you are the Son of God” - to prove who you are by doing. The first temptation represents for us the way in which we can fill our own lives with achievements, with trophies which feed our own ego and hunger for acceptance. Jesus reply is this - only God’s word can reach the deepest hunger within us. Only God can claim to satisfy every need we experience.
The second speaks of importance and fame. In a society such as ours where these things go to the heart of what we value as identity, being somebody in the eyes of others, having fame and recognition. The pressure of Facebook and Twitter to constantly update exciting and full lives can drive some people to think that not having one means they are not as important or leading such fulfilling lives. Jesus’ reply is this ‘Don’t forget what God has said - don’t test his wisdom, his truth-” Life in God is not based on how other people see you or perceive you - life in God is about how he sees you.
The third temptation is about desire and where the centre of our hearts lie. What or who do we worship? Where is our focus and energy directed? Jesus will later teach that we must seek first God’s Kingdom, that we can not serve two masters, that we must be wary of the dangers and lure of wealth. “Worship the Lord you God and serve him only”. (v10.)
Lent is that time where we take these questions to our own hearts. Where have we been reshaped by the values of this world? Where do we need to reshape what we think is important? It is of course only a beginning, this type of journey is a life long one as we seek to be people in this world but not of this world.
The Genesis story of Adam and Eve comes into play where the command in 2.17 becomes an option in 3.6 - and in the deciding factors, God is not involved in the decision process. He is an outside party in the conversation and deliberation. God is not spoken to but about. The questioning seems to be a precursor in the same style spoken to Jesus - about God not to God - but Jesus turned it around.
Adam and Eve hear a misquote, enough to make them think that what God said was not necessarily so. The freedom to explore and play within the boundaries of creation now become the prison from which to break free. And in discovering who they are outside of the freedom that God was promising actually leads to shame not security. What God had created beautiful there now is a sense of nakedness. Where there had been a provision now they make do themselves.
Where have we used language about God to diminish his work and creation? Where have we sought to find ourselves but lose God?
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.