Scripture: Luke 4: 1-12 Jan Savory
Lead us not into Temptation. That well known phrase in the Lord’s prayer has always bothered me. Why would my loving God lead me into temptation? The modern words – Save us from the time of trial – sit easier with me, but are they what Jesus really meant? After reading todays Gospel text, I can see Jesus telling his disciples to ask God to save them from the experience he had when the Spirit led him in the wilderness where he was tempted (or tested, the Greek word can be translated either way) for a long time.
Here’s Jesus, on a spiritual high. He’d just been baptised by John. Last week we heard: “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And right after that, he leaves the Jordon, and is “led by the Spirit in the wilderness,” where he undergoes physical and spiritual hardships. In Biblical terms: he was tempted by the devil. Lead us not into temptation.
Based on personal experience, I believe that there are 2 kinds of temptation or test: every day temptation and the testing the wilderness.
All of us face temptations every day, usually subtle messages which are often not so clearly recognizable. They come not from an apparitional being but originate inside ourselves or come from other people.
Sometimes, they arise from a sense of inadequacy, fear or insecurity. If only I had … ( a bigger house, more money, a more loving spouse, etc.) If only I was … (prettier, fitter, thinner, more likable, and so on). These feelings are frequently fed from outside ourselves. Think of advertising. Nine times out of ten, the goal is to create in us a sense of lack and inadequacy. Then follows the implicit promise that purchasing the advertised product will relieve our insecurity. Or consider the messages from politicians, especially at election time. They try to create in us insecurity and fear. Terrorism, immigrants, corporations, joblessness, low wages, high taxes, the wealthy, the poor –the target shifts, but the message is the same: elect me and I’ll keep you safe. As the devil said to Jesus: worship me and I’ll give you all this.
Entitlement and instant gratification
Other times from a sense of entitlement or instant gratification. Of course, it’s OK to buy that (you name it) instead of new shoes for the kids; even though I’ll hardly use it and really can’t really afford it and it’ll end up in landfill. But, I’m worth it. Or why shouldn’t I help myself to a stapler from the stationary cupboard at the office, or copy a recipe book instead of buying the book. I work hard. I’m entitled.
Most of us aren’t tempted to do truly diabolical things, because most of us aren’t diabolical people. I have never been tempted to murder someone, and you probably haven’t either. Our temptations start as just small ways we fail to live up to the promises we make at our Baptism. Such temptations, if we give in to them, grow in severity and can in time erode our faith.
Wilderness temptations are different. The wilderness is a time when we question our whole sense of who we are, what we are, who God is, where our lives are going. A time of hunger for God and God’s consoling presence. It’s not a comfortable place. It is a stage in personal development when a person undergoes a difficult and significant transition to a deeper perception of life and their place in it. St John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish Carmelite called it the Dark Night of the Soul, a time of initiation, taking you from one phase of life into another. It can be triggered by some uncontrollable, external event, such as a bereavement or disaster. It can also be triggered by something happening that you can’t explain away. Something that makes you question your beliefs or your way of life.
The temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness are aimed at the heart of who Jesus is. Twice the devil begins his temptation by calling into question Jesus’ identity as the Son of God with the words “if you are the Son of God” followed by a challenge to prove this identity with some miraculous display: (stone into bread, a dramatic angelic rescue from death). And they all call into questions God’ ability to provide for Jesus needs. In each case, the devil seeks to undermine Jesus’ confidence in both God and himself, his confidence that he is enough, that he is secure, that he is worthy of God’s love.
Dark night of the soul
If we experience a dark night of the soul, and not everyone does, we often feel that something is missing, but we haven’t quite figured it out yet. During this phase, it’s common to feel lost, confused, and down. God seems to be distant, or absent. Our sense of self or self worth may be severely eroded. Our long-held beliefs about God questioned. It is a period of intense doubt in whatever we have believed before. Lead us not into temptation.
Eventually, this time ends. Sometimes after months, maybe even years. But, we come out stronger, with a renewed sense of ourselves and God, just as Jesus came out of the wilderness ready to start a new life of ministry, teaching and healing. Our new life may not look, on the surface, very different from the old one, but we have become stronger in faith, more secure in who we are and more ready to accept God’s unconditional love as our birthright. Perhaps we emerge with a better understanding of the Spiritual gifts we heard about in our first reading today, and how to use them “for the common good”. God hasn’t changed, but we have. We see the Divine more clearly.
Save us from the time of trial
Jesus taught us to pray Save us from the time of trial, but, if we find ourselves there, may God Deliver us from evil to that place where we can see that the Kingdom, the power and the Glory are [God’s], now and for ever.