Order of Worship for the following reflection: Bulletin-TL 02-26-2023 YA L1
Scriptures: Psalm 32, Matthew 4:1-11
Let us pray:
God of Springtime, let your Holy Spirit breathe insight and understanding into these ancient texts for our contemporary time. Amen.
Today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew sets us up for examining the ministry of Christ for the Sunday of Lent. Some commentators view this passage of temptation as preparation before the public ministry of Jesus is launched. For much of the rest of the season of Lent, we will be dipping into the Gospel of John. There are some interesting differences in how John’s crafting of how to understand the ministry of Jesus and how Matthew catalogs it. Just to tempt you a bit, I will attempt to do a little comparison over the next several weeks of Lent between the two. The reason being, the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and John wrote during incredible shifts – transitions, if you will, in the lives of faithful followers of Christ. Studying them carefully, perhaps there are some lessons for where you are in your own life and ministry together in this moment.
First, let’s deal with the Tempter. I suspect many of you are familiar with this character in Matthew’s Gospel. Or, perhaps, you are more familiar with the anthropomorphic tendencies some versions of Christianity have placed upon this character over the centuries. Or, perhaps you are more familiar with how the film industry has taken these characterizations and birthed evil incarnate in a villain of some sort. The unfortunate tradition in our Revised Common Lectionary to elide Matthew’s passage with the Genesis passage of the crafty snake simply re-emphasizes this. Today I would like to question this convention – and question why this story is so often called the temptation of Jesus, when clearly at this moment, Jesus shows only minimal temptation, easily “passing the test,” so-to-speak, with his rebuttals. Commentator Douglas John Hall observes,
“We miss the point…when we consider this text only from the perspective of its characterization of Jesus and his mission. It is also … a statement about the church. [Jesus] resisted these temptations; the church, however, has rarely been able to do so. Indeed too often…the church has succumbed.”
To what, you may ask? Simply put, in one sense or another, to seizing and holding power over something or someone. To becoming, as the crafty serpent says, “like God.” Does this passage in Matthew actually embody a deceiver? Is there an Opposite Evil Incarnation or possession, as many Hollywood films like to paint? Or is this an internal fight between the dual natures of humanity and divinity embodied in Jesus? Which are also, I would suggest, embodied in each of us. Let me reposition the lens just a bit. Astute biblical scholar and contemporary cultural observer Maryetta Anschutz writes,
“There is something captivating about seeing evil incarnate on the big screen, in the pages of a novel, or in the names of those said by a nation to pose political threats. It is only human to feel the need to see evil anthropomorphized, to name, visualize, vilify, and separate us from “it” in order to engage “it” as an opponent in battle. This is true in sacred texts as well. Evil tests Eve and Aaron, the great high priest, Job and King David, Jesus and his disciples. Over and over again, in order to live a life that chooses God, a faithful person must face the choice of acting outside of God. It is easier to make that choice if we can put a face on temptation.”
In a summary of author C.S. Lewis’s theological perspective in The Screwtape Letters, she again observes that temptations, personified in the characters Uncle Screwtape and understudy Wormwood, try to,
“Create a generation of people who are defined by selfishness and insincerity, pettiness and pride, fear and a need to control the things of this world.”
She goes on to write,
“This is true of our own temptations. Most of us cannot imagine the devil offering bread after a forty–day fast. We do not know the fear of being held over the ledge at the top of the Empire State Building. We certainly do not know the temptation of being offered all the power in the world. Each one of us, however, understands the temptations Screwtape and Wormwood offer: pride, vanity, selfishness, and apathy.”
This also happens at the corporate level of church and society. Who are we and what is our standing in this community? How might we leverage our past and future with the temptation of what we most might gain? Or perhaps, a more simple yet just as tempting – we just want it to be the way it was, the way we remember it when we loved it best? How can we get there? It is tempting to want to hold on and grasp that which is most familiar in the face of changes and challenges of the unfamiliar, isn’t it? Yet every Christian Community can benefit most by asking: What is our mission? What is our purpose? Is it to service others and the community in which we sit or to serve ourselves? How do we offer God to the world that needs an encounter with the Living Christ? What does it take for us to feed the deep inner hunger people of all ages need as they grow in mind, body, and spirit into who they will become as Christ’s disciples in the world? Traditionally,
“Lenten penitence engages the dark places in our lives that we may come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. [But it] is not about guilt. It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all, about the amendment of life and new beginnings.”
Spring is bursting around us, God’s gift of Earth’s visual cycle of birth, death, and resurrection that is the true meaning of Lent. Peering through the lens of Springtime emerging, can you apply the vision you have adopted as a Matthew 25 church and see spiritual renewal, congregational renewal, outward mission, and a deepened faith for all?
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Douglas John Hall “Theological Perspective, Matthew 4:1-11” in Feasting on the Word, Year A (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
 Maryetta Anschutz, “Pastoral Perspective, Matthew 4:1-11” in Feasting on the Word, Year A (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).