|Published by Rev'd Tif Ewins on Fri, 6 Mar 2020 15:02|
At the time of writing this, Jon Snow, Chanel 4 News anchor, is in self isolation. This is what he 4 days in:
“Most of the time I am alone. In the first day or two I went mad around the house – cleaning out drawers, hoovering carpets, tidying long untidied cupboards. Making cups of coffee. Turning the radio on – turning it off – and finally settling down to Channel 4 News. Paranoid, I thought, much too good without me….
…Three days in, and I’m driven to think about necessities; the loo rolls have run out. It is only now that for the first time in my life I think about home deliveries.
… As I write, I have only been in such confinement for four days; what on earth sort of shape shall I be in come 10 days’ time? Will I still have a job? Will she still love me?”
Recently Christian in her 20's told us about her experience of a week of silent retreat in Taize, France. It was an experience of removing herself from the noise of the outside world, but also the inner noise; the distractions that prevent us all from attending to the inner life. The inner life is that of our spirit and God’s spirit in communion with one another. Yes we can get there in moments of ordinary life, but these isolations, these times of silence and solitude enable us in a powerful way to face the questions that are our deepest reality.
So we turn to Jesus heading into the desert, (Mt 4:1-11) into self isolation. He is led by the spirit – this is God’s loving action not a malign attack, and it comes in the moments after Jesus has heard His Father in Heaven say “This is my son. I love Him. I am so pleased with him." Mt 3:17
And so, he goes. The 40 days parallel 40 years for Israel in the desert. Jesus fasts and fasting is associated with visions, so we are probably not meant to think that Jesus was bodily taken to the places described. If you have even wondered how we got the story, I like what I read from a commentator this week who imagined that Jesus told his disciples of this episode when they needed encouragement in their own temptations. Temptation is a universal human experience, after all.
The first two temptations follow the same wording v3, 6 “If you are the son of God…”
"If" or "Since?"
Jesus has been told He is God’s son – that is who He is. The choice is, will he live like it or not? God is already pleased with Jesus. God loves Jesus. Will Jesus choose the obedience of a son in response to that love? In other words, will His identity form his actions? The tests here are temptations to disobey and therefore, not to live out of who Jesus really is.
The tempters words are “Since you are God’s son, and he loves you anyway, God won’t mind if you turn these stones into bread. He won’t want people to be hungry.” Jesus replies effectively, "No, God won’t but I’m not doing that. When the time comes for the bread of life to be revealed, it will take my life, my body as an act of love to save the people. I know who I am and I am choosing to take the path God sets – not a short cut." Jesus chooses His path here, in silence and solitude, in light of who He knows Himself to be
Temptation two runs like this, "You’re God’s son. He will save you if you ask. Don’t put yourself in danger - ask for rescue." But Jesus resists.
When the time comes although people will jeer and mock using similar words to the Satan here, Jesus chooses to submit himself to the cross with all its pain and degradation.
Temptation three – This one is really interesting as it says so much more about the desires of “the world the flesh and the devil” than it does about Jesus. The tempter says, “Worship me and I will give you everything!” Does he have everything to give? I doubt it.
Jesus’ reply shows that in the deepest place Jesus is content to be who he is. He is God’s obedient son. He shows it here, in a way which sets the script for the rest of his ministry. He is at peace with that identity and willing to act out of it. Jesus said (to the devil), "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only HIm." Mt 4:10
We always read this story at the beginning of lent, for obvious reasons. But I have never begun lent with the genuine threat that one or more of us may need to go into our own wilderness of self isolation in the coming weeks. If that happens, there could be a gift in it. There could be the opportunity to silence the world and to face that deep question, "Since God says I am His beloved child (as He does, time and time again in scripture) am I content to live out of that identity? Am I at peace to resist the easy way if I know deep down that the path God has for me is harder? Am I content to leave safety if I know the call of God is to risk more? Am I content to abandon the pursuit of influence and adulation if I know that God is calling me to keep my eyes, my time, my talents, my money, my worship focused on Him?"
Am I, when I am all alone, when it is truly silent, except for the beat of my heart, ready to respond to God’s love for me by living as one who chooses to believe that I am deeply and perfectly loved? Because choosing to believe in that love when in the wilderness can pave the way for life with purpose back in the world.