Lent 1–March 10, 2019
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We heard these words pronounced over us as a cross of ash was put on our foreheads. “Remember that you are dust”: This bears some thinking about. I remember years ago wondering why we had so much dust in our house in North Carolina and I learned that some of that dust I’m wiping off the furniture is from my skin. We’re so full of dust we’re constantly shedding the stuff.
As we mature we realize our dust is no match for all the things we’re afraid of. Things like shame, guilt, failure, disease, and death. We’re so afraid we engage in games to maintain the illusion that we are not dust. We play silly games like: my dust is prettier than your dust. My dust is smarter, richer, and more successful than your dust! My team of dust has won more Super Bowls than your team of dust! Anything to make us feel better about who we are.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Greed, lust, prejudice, jealously, addiction, anger and violence are all strategies meant to calm us down or distract us from the simple fact we are something as trivial and temporary as dust. But all our strategies are like putting lipstick on a pig.
But there is one strategy that is perhaps the most powerful of all. It’s the strategy of “I need it Now”—Give me my bread and give it to me now; give me power and give it to me now. Give me absolute faith and give it to me now.’
This thirst for Having it all Now is at the heart of Jesus’ temptations in the desert.
Jesus is not superman—because he too is dust. As John’s gospel puts it, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and the Word became Dust and dwelt among us.”
So in the desert Jesus at the end of his 40 day fast is famished so the devil, which comes to him as a voice in his head, says, Turn the stones to bread NOW—because your dust needs a constant resupply to keep moving.
And Jesus needs authority to bring the Father’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, so the Voice in the head says, Turn your allegiance to me NOW and you’ll have instant control of the world. You don’t need to mess around with weak and worthless disciples and spending time with the sick and outcasts. I’ll connect you with the rich and powerful who can fund your campaign and get you what you want so you can complete your mission from God.
And Jesus needs to prove he has complete faith, so the voice in the head says, Throw yourself off the temple NOW and prove to God how much faith you have, you don’t have to work for three grinding years, you can prove it now. Some commentators suggest Jesus is being tempted to do something dramatic to impress the people, but as Karl Barth points out no people are mentioned here, rather Jesus is being tempted to impress God with his faithfulness but in a way not commanded by God. How often are we tempted to take on some job, like stay with someone who is abusive to impress God when it is not God’s will to do so?
(It is a positive Spiritual practice to live in the Now and to accept the Now as it is. It is a destructive practice to want to bring the future into the Now because we feel the Now is not acceptable as it is.)
All these temptations are about stepping outside God’s will to get what we want. The voice says, “Do it Now, Jesus, right Now!”
How many times I’ve heard that same voice in my head: “Take it now Bill, you deserve it, your people need it, you need it, “Now, right, Now!”
Stanley Hauerwas says here: “The devil is but another name for our impatience. We want bread, we want to force God’s hand to rescue us, we want peace—and we want all this now.”
Psychiatrist Carl Jung says, “Hurry is not of the devil, hurry is the devil.”
It is right for Jesus to want to eat; it is right for him to want to take the message of the Kingdom of God to all people; it is right for him to want to show his trust in God. But what is not right is to step outside God’s guidance and God’s method to accomplish these good things.
So Jesus is willing to wait and as he waits he remembers. He remembers Israel rebelled against God on their journey in the wilderness by demanding God feed them NOW; Jesus remembers Moses’ brother Aaron making the Golden Calf because Moses was taking too long on Mt. Sinai and the people were getting restless. Jesus remembers they were constantly putting God to the test, instead of trusting God.
And above all Jesus remembers Israel’s prayer book, the Psalms: Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”
This is not the “sitting around doing nothing kind of waiting”, but the going into one’s heart and resting in the all-sufficient Presence of God in faith, hope, and love.
Now he knows he no longer has to be in a hurry, for God’s timing is always better than the timing of the anxious, impatient Voice in the head screaming “do it now”.
So Jesus tells the voice: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone…so I’m going to wait on God. He says, “It is written ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
So I’m not going to obey the hurry I feel in my head.
And Jesus remembers, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” So I’ll live this day trusting God’s plan is better than my plan.
Hauerwas continues: “The devil’s temptations are meant to force Jesus to acknowledge that our world is determined by death. Death creates a world of scarcity—a world without enough food, power, or life itself. But Jesus resists the devil because he is God’s abundance. Jesus brings a kingdom that is not a zero-sum game. There is enough food, power, and life because the kingdom has come, making possible a people who have the time to feed their neighbors. Fear creates scarcity, but Jesus has made it possible for us to live in trust.” Brazos Commentary on Matthew
Psalm 62 says: For God alone my soul in silence waits,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
For God alone my soul in silence waits”.