Lent 1—Year C
February 14, 2016
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, a 30 year old nobody, is baptized by John in the Jordan and sees the heavens ripped open, feels the Spirit of God descend into his heart, and hears the voice of the Father say to him: “you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” But then the story takes a strange turn: Jesus, now full of the Holy Spirit, is led out into the wilderness where for forty days he is tempted by the devil. Okay, we say, we’ve all been tempted by to do the wrong thing, haven’t we: tempted to play video games instead of studying for an exam, tempted to look at a classmate’s paper during an exam, tempted to tell our boss something negative about a co-worker.
These temptations threaten to pull us off course from being the good person our parents want us to be, but aren’t the biggest deal in the world.
If we are lucky enough to live in a nice home, with a family that loves us, with every physical need met, then we might read Jesus’ temptation as a story in which a guy dressed in white is engaged by a funny creature in red tights holding a pitchfork. The Devil tells Jesus fix his hunger with magic instead of with hard work by turning a stone into bread; to gain people’s admiration through a stunt at the temple instead of through discipline and honesty, and to gain power by agreeing to follow the devil instead of God.
This comes across as a cartoon really, because we’re modern people and Anglicans after all. We believe in Google and the internet, why on earth would we believe in a mythological character in a cheap Halloween costume?
This devil can be easily overcome by education, reason, and good intentions. If we do well in school, get a good job, avoid being totally irrational, and have good intentions, then evil will vanish from our personal lives, which is all smart, rational, nice people care about.
But what if we come from a different upbringing?
I had dealings in my parish in North Carolina with a young man named Jack who said when he was a young child his mother used to take him to the jail to visit his father. And being a wild kid he said he always acted out during the visit. But his mother wouldn’t do anything until he was back in the car where she would buckle his seat belt and then badly beat him. Of course violence became his default setting so that he was in prison twice in the 1990s. [Experiences like this prompted me to investigate prison ministry, so that I spent two days awhile back in a local jail with 11 inmates and two facilitators from the Alternatives to Violence Project, which has been around since the 1960s offering men and women Transforming Power that can lead them out of the violence that has subverted their lives.]
What got set loose in his life can’t be solved by education, reason, and good intentions alone. Jack needed someone from the outside to invade his life in order to set him free from the Evil of suffering and violence that controlled his life.
In 1994 that same Evil on a massive scale was set loose during 100 days in Rwanda, which is 90% Christian country, when up to a million Tutsi were killed by Hutus wielding machetes. As one person at the time said, “Much of the evidence indicates that ‘blood’ proved thicker than baptismal water, that faith was powerless to overcome the interests of class or ethnicity…” Stephen Haynes in The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge page 441.
Time magazine instead of putting a picture on its cover May 16, 1994 put a quote from a missionary in Rwanda, who said: “There are no devils left in Hell; they are all in Rwanda.” Ibid. page 439
Romeo Dallaire, the French-Canadian general who was in charge of the UN forces during the genocide, following one of his many presentations about it, was asked by a Canadian Forces chaplain, how he could still believe in God after all he has seen and experienced. He answered, “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil, I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God.” Ibid.
The story in Luke is the opening round of a cosmic battle. The Spirit leads Jesus to engage Evil and Evil is ready for him: “Who do you think you are—God’s Son? Your mother was an unmarried teenager and you think you are God’s Son!”
“Prove it, Jesus: act like a real god would act. Surely God’s son can turn a stone into a loaf of bread? Surely God’s Son can jump down off the temple and land safely in front of all the people—if Superman can do it surely you could if you were really God’s Son instead of a fatherless hick from the sticks. If you’re God’s Son you are supposed to be in control of the world, which obviously you aren’t, so worship me and I’ll give you real power!
But Jesus knows who his Father is because he knows the Hebrew Scriptures. His Father is not violent or vindictive, but the Creator God who in Jesus enters the depth of human suffering, sin, and slavery. The Father wills to rescue his good creation out of the grasp of this Dark Agency by entering it fully and taking it into himself, not through violent power like Evil does and Nations do, but through self-giving, sacrificial love.
Luke says that after Evil finishes its attack it withdraws to wait for an opportune time. The attacks would continue daily until finally Evil strips and beats Jesus, hangs him on a cross, naked and alone for all the world to see.
On Good Friday Evil appears to have won.
But that was before we knew about Sunday. On Sunday we see that not even the worst evil can stop God in Christ from reconciling the world to himself and transforming evil into occasions of the proclamation of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus.
In 1943 Chris Beker, an emotionally vulnerable teenager in The Netherlands, is ripped from his family by the Nazis and sent alone to Berlin to work in a slave labor camp to support the German war machine. He contracts typhus and almost dies. Beside him in the camp infirmary is a Polish boy who has been beaten senseless. He lays beside Chris for three days and nights and then he dies. Ibid. Pages 354-5
The evil Beker experiences is carried out by one of the most educated, rational, artistic and well-intentioned cultures in Europe,
It is while lying beside the wasted body of the Polish boy murdered for no reason at all, that Chris decides to become a theologian. He goes to the window and beholds Berlin in flames from the Allied bombing and sick with typhus and seeing the apocalypse, Chris confesses “Only God is real.” Ibid
Chris Beker would become a world class New Testament scholar teaching at Princeton.
Living the nightmare of real evil Chris Beker grabs hold of the only One who could save him. Or to put it in New Testament terms, in the depths of his nightmare Chris Beker is grasped by Jesus Christ and called to share in Christ’s victory over Satan’s Realm that enslaves the world.
In the middle of Evil he leans what is proclaimed in Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
This salvation is for all victims of Evil. Turns out the salvation of Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen, is also for all victimizers, because we remember what Jesus says, Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.