Lent 1: Have I got a deal for you
I have often have wanted to direct a liturgical drama piece re-telling this Gospel passage with Satan in cheesy plaid polyester pants, wide tie and pin striped, ill fitting sports coat with at least one mustard stain on a lapel..oh, and don't forget the pencil mustache and slicked back hair.
While that particular production may never take place I don't think we do an injustice by exposing 'the tempter' for the con man he is.
Jesus has just been baptized and had his own personal epiphany regarding his identity as the Son of God. Not just a child of God..the son of God. After getting that awesome news in that spectacular way, his Spirit leads him with some urgency into the desert. This whole concept can't be mulled over while fashioning a cart or a water bucket.
Jesus sets off on a retreat - a vision quest if you will - to attempt to incorporate this reality into his familiar reality. He goes totally unprepared for the journey - no food, no extra clothing for a brisk evenings, no protection from snakes, scorpions or small mammals, no flint for striking a fire. Nothing but food for thought. It is when Jesus is thirsty, nearly delirious with hunger that 'the Tempter' comes to him, testing out whether he has indeed taken his vision seriously. "IF you are the son of God, try out some of the abilities you possess: change this stone into bread. Somewhat oddly, Jesus reverts to his tried and true knowledge, gleaned from scripture and his worldly experience.."MAN does not live by bread alone". The Tempter tries again to force Jesus' hand this time using Hebrew scripture as a tool, "IF you are the son of God, throw yourself down - you won't be hurt!" Relying on scripture again, but beginning to rely on his own new identity, Jesus quotes "It is written, don't put the Lord to the test".
Alright. The slick salesman has tried two different kinds of pitches and neither worked. He now focuses on the strictly human - and more familiar - side of his targets character. Going to a high peak The Tempter says "Look around you. This is all mine and I will give it to you if you worship me." Jesus summons the strength to dismiss this imposter, this Tempter: "BE GONE, SATAN. WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE ONLY HIM." Satan was dismissed by God in Jesus. In other Gospels, the cryptic note (paraphrased here) is added to the account: Satan left then, waiting for an appropriate time to return.
Evil is persistent. Temptation is a reality, or Jesus wouldn't have taught us to pray to the Father not to be led there. The Tempter is with us always here on this plane of existence, but not in the next. We can, with the help of God (and often a friend, family member, spouse, group or our own conscience) avoid succumbing to our temptations. They may not be so blatant as the ones in this Gospel. It may mean the choice of satisfying a curiosity by having a 'fling', a couple of shots, a few pills taken secretly out of a prescription written for someone else, a lie to fulfill the need for attention we feel we cannot get by being just ourselves. Temptation is there...and so is God's Holy Spirit.
Life would be dull without choices. Making certain choices made while being provoked by the Tempter (whether from within or without) may have us driving home in the lemon from the used car lot. Others will put us on the slippery slope of putting a brick in the wall of our relationship between ourselves and our God.
If you are faced with the decision between putting a bid on the Brooklyn Bridge or building a bridge of gratitude and humility to your God, I'd make my investment in the second option. If the Tempter has been trying to talk you OUT of it, you know you're making the right decision. Amen.