A friend of mine took weeks planning his holiday and kept a very tight schedule. He would work out the exact time he would leave each morning, when and where on the map he would stop for morning tea at 10.30am, where they would have lunch and so on. Every day was mapped out to the very last detail. He needed to be organised and in control. I once asked, what happens if you get a flat tyre? What happens if something happens to upset your very tight schedule? It was clear that this wasn’t something he had factored into his plans. The season of Lent is a bit like a journey as we move with Jesus toward Jerusalem, through the trials of his passion, the denials and betrayals of his closest friends, and finally the cross. The cross was not something that any of the disciples had factored into their time with Jesus. The cross was the opposite, a tragedy, a desolation; the worst thing that could ever have happened as far as they were concerned. It threw their lives into turmoil. Yet what remains consistent throughout these trials is the faithfulness, the goodness, the forgiveness of God.
In our Gospel reading this Sunday Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. We might see it as a kind of prayer retreat, where Jesus prepares for his public ministry by drawing close to God. Traditionally called the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ this passage recounts a time of testing for Jesus, while at the same time invites us to reflect on our own temptations – our own motives, and how we behave. The question is, what is being tested? Luke gives us the answer in the way the tempter put his questions to Jesus. Each time Jesus is asked, “IF you are the Son of God” …. IF! The tempter is clearly questioning Jesus’ identity – trying to undermine Jesus’ identity by getting him to question that himself. It’s all about identity!
The first temptation is to use his power to get what he wants for himself, his own survival. “Turn these stones into bread’ – surely you can do that, Jesus. Come on, be just a little selfish, it won’t hurt anyone. After all you’re not asking for a banquet, just a piece of bread.
Likewise, we are constantly tempted in our consumer society to buy more than we need, to clutter our lives up with more things for our comfort and enjoyment.
In the second and third test the temptation is to control everything, to be a global leader, to be popular, rich and famous – a celebrity. However, through it all Jesus remains clear about who he is. He doesn’t need to prove it to the tempter or anyone else. He will not bait God, for God already knows what he needs and Jesus trusts in God’s care. Jesus has come not for himself but to embody the generosity and compassion of God in his care for the poor, the weak, the sick and the outcast. Jesus constantly chooses to take the path of compassion and justice. He will not use the powers and processes of the world but rather lives under the sign of the cross, of obedience, and steadfast love.
What shines through these trials is profound integrity. Jesus knows that the path he has chosen will not be an easy one but that does not stop him. In Luke’s gospel and Luke’s community, Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the prophet of the poor who defends God’s name in the community in solidarity with the victims of injustice. And the temptations of Jesus are not unique to him, they also test us – test our identity, our character. We don’t need to test whether God loves us, that is assured – rather we are called to love God wholeheartedly and so be a sign of God’s steadfast love present in our world.