Jesus is God’s Beloved Son
We heard last week how God, at Jesus baptism, confirmed what people have been realizing up to now in Luke’s Gospel. The voice of God from heaven declared that Jesus is God’s beloved son. In the families of the ancient world an adult son was the father’s representative and the father and the son would work together to accomplish the family goals. So here we have Jesus about to start his work as the representative of his Father. But how was he to understand and accomplish the family goals?
Right after his baptism, we heard, the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert where he spent time sorting out what that meant, how he was to fulfil this role. As I’ve heard Nigel put it, it’s equivalent to the pre ordination retreat priests do today. After this, Jesus was ready to go into Galilee and proclaim that the words of Isaiah about the Messiah have been fulfilled. We’ll be hearing about this in the weeks to come.
Temptations call Jesus’ Identity into Question
Using the language of his day, Luke, like Matthew and Mark, presents Jesus’ deliberations as being tempted by the devil. These temptations go to the heart of who Jesus is. Two of them start by calling into question Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son with the words “if you are the Son of God” followed by a challenge to prove this identity with some miraculous display (stones into bread or a dramatic angelic rescue from death). The other temptation (all the nations of the world will belong to you if you worship me) invites Jesus to ignore God’s role in his life and work and be seen as the sole ruler.
Three temptations – Self-indulgence / bread, self-aggrandizement / power and self-serving religious identity / safety. What they all have in common is that they display Jesus’ identity in self-serving ways that would undermine his identity as the Son who relies on the good gifts of the Father.
David Lose, a Lutheran preacher and writer summarized it this way, as identity theft taking away Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son.
“It really doesn’t have to be bread, power, or safety. Temptations, I mean. In today’s reading the devil tries to seduce Jesus with the promise of bread when he’s hungry, the glory and power of all the world’s leaders, and the promise of rescue paired with the suggestion that God is not sufficient to keep Jesus safe. And all Jesus has to do in return is worship Satan. Bread, power, and safety. But it just as well might have been youth, beauty, and wealth. Or confidence, fame, and security. On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more secure identity. Which is why I think this passage is really about identity theft. And not simply the devil’s failed attempt to steal Jesus’ identity but all the attempts to rob us of ours.”
Our identity – Beloved Children of God
Last week’s reading from Isaiah gave us a lovely picture of who we are and whose we are “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” And “you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you”. We belong to God and God loves each one of us. calling us by name. We, too, are God’s beloved sons and daughters, children of God. Paul confirms this: Romans 6:14 “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God”; and Gal 3:26 “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith”. This is our identity, sons and daughters of God, and like Jesus, we face temptations that seek to rob us of that identity.
A few that come to my mind right away are these, but I expect you can think pf more:
Advertising and Consumerism
Advertisements make a promise less about the quality of a product and more about an imagined lifestyle that owning the product can somehow provide.
By owning this kind of car, or using this kind of wineglass, advertisers suggest, we will discover our identity and move closer to having a meaningful life. Thehe new Volvo XC60 – Moments advertising video shows a mother driving her child around in a Volvo as the child, initially shy, develops confidence. Another car advertisement, an Audi Ad proclaims “Bravery it’s what defines us”. Soap ads show pictures of beautiful women with perfect skin – but stop short of claiming that’s what the soap will do for you.
Sometimes it’s explicit, usually it’s implied. Owning this brand of car will make you a more confident or braver person; using this soap makes you more beautiful. Look how much fun you’ll have if you serve this food or beverage. You get the idea. Want to be happy, brave, confident or whatever – there’s a product out there whose advertising implies it can give you this. Who needs God?
Tired of being poor, counting pennies? Look what you could win on the lottery! Need some excitement – well, play the slots, or live tables; you don’t need to fly down to Vega, although you can. It’s legal, but is it right? There are lots of get rich schemes here, in addition to the gaming tables – just ask a shady investment dealer! You could get rich – or become very poor. But they don’t tell you that. Come on, get rich off other poor suckers. Forget all this Love your neighbour stuff.
On Friday, when I went to Fortinos to buy (healthy) fruit, I was tempted and bought a big container of Chocolate Chip cookies! Self-indulgent, yes, but relatively harmless. Self indulgence could be deciding to watch TV instead of calling or visiting a lonely person, just because we don’t feel like it – or many other things
Self indulgence at the expense of the environment
It can also be about putting ourselves before the needs of the environment and our fellow creatures. Do we buy eggs laid by hens that are kept in tiny cages? Or eat chickens that never get to see the light of day? And what about consuming more than our fair share of the world’s resources?
A recent Globe and Mail article said: “while dairy and meat products provided just 18 per cent of calories consumed by humans, their production monopolizes 83 per cent of global farmland and is responsible for 60 per cent of all greenhouse gases generated by agriculture. The loss of forest cover to farmland is one of the main causes of species loss and global warming.”
We are encouraged to think about greenhouse gas usage, but do we consider the impact of our diets on God’s creatures and creation? What are we doing to our world, and what will it be like for our children and grandchildren? I’m not proposing full vegetarianism, just more thoughtful consumption and we’ll see where it leads us. God loves all creation, and as God’s children, we should too
Finding our identity.
So, where do we find our identity? Are we driven by consumer culture, get rich quick schemes, self-indulgence or other temptations? Is our identity rooted in being God’s beloved son or daughter, or it is rooted in our self-love? “If you are the son of God …”- the devil tried to undermine Jesus’ confidence in both God and himself. He seeks, that is, to erode Jesus’ confidence that God is enough, and that Jesus is worthy of God’s love. But Jesus knows that God is enough and he, Jesus, has enough. But he also knows that he is of infinite worth in the eyes of God. And so are we.
Isn’t this what most of our temptations are about. Our insufficiencies and insecurities A new outfit will give me confidence. With a new carpet my home will be perfect and admired. If I had more money, I’d be happy and popular. I can do without God to fulfil my needs; I can do it myself. I can turn the stones of my insufficiency into the bread of whatever I need without God. The temptations may be very different on the surface, but at a deeper level they all boil down to this: they seek to move our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that seems to promises a more secure identity.
In the wilderness
Jesus, according to the story, wandered in the wilderness for 40 days, two biblical expressions meaning a place of testing and a very long time. Like Jesus, there are times we find ourselves in the wilderness, in a place of testing, where we feel lost; where we try to sort out in our own minds and hearts where God is for us, what it means to be a child of God, what our egos think we can do for ourselves. Sometimes, God feels very distant and insufficient for our needs. Can God be trusted? Our deep spiritual work rarely happens in abbreviated, linear bursts; temptation is not once and done. Jesus rejects the tempter here, but he has other moments of doubt, particularly at Gethsemane and the cross.
What is going on in the wilderness? On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, the temptation to define ourselves apart from God
Here is something for each of us to do. Take with us this question, and think about it and answer it on the weeks to come: What tempts me to find my sufficiency and security in something other than in God? And then reclaim your identity as Gods beloved son or daughter.
Go forth knowing you are a beloved child of God
Jesus went into the wilderness with God’s blessing in his ears: “You are my beloved son (daughter). He came out knowing how to serve God and God’s kingdom on Earth. So God bless you, beloved Children of God, as we all journey in the wilderness. Amen