Thursday, March 13, 2014

Despair and the Quick Fix

Matthew 4: 1-11
Jesus could have gone for the quick fix.  That’s what the devil was offering him when he tempted Jesus out in the dry and forbidden wilderness.  All of the testing and temptations spewing out of that devilish mouth were merely contrived remedies that offered immediate relief to Jesus.  They were ways that he could have alleviated all of his problems, and those of the entire world for that matter, if not forever, at least for the time being. 

We don’t know to what depth that the human Jesus had been tempted, there were no witnesses in Matthew’s Gospel account.  We do know that he was tested mightily and that he chose God.  He placed complete obedience and dependence on God at a time when he could have taken the path of least resistance and gotten so much more.

You see Jesus had just come up from the Jordan where he was baptized as God’s beloved son and filled with the Spirit.  Then, he was whisked away by the very same Spirit into the wilderness.  A test?  So soon?  But that’s what happens, living a faithful life means that there will be a wilderness or two and tests along the way, maybe not so blatant as in this Gospel but they are there.  Jesus was no exception.

Then, HaSatan, the Satan arrives in the wilderness too, alongside of Jesus.  He comes across as Jesus’ friend, so offering a bite to eat to a famished Jesus was the most natural and first thing that a friend, I mean, the Devil could conjure up.  “Food, glorious food”, as the boys and Oliver liked to sing in the play ‘Oliver Twist’.  All that if only Jesus you turn this stone into bread.  ‘Hot sausage and mustard!’ cries Oliver. 

Why Jesus you could turn all of these stones into plenty of loaves and alleviate hunger throughout the world!  Think about it.  Knowing Jesus’ heart and his penchant toward social and economic justice this would have pleased him.  But as it is written, Jesus says, bread is not the only thing that keeps us strong, God’s word gives us just as much sustenance for our living.

Then, from the wilderness Jesus was whisked to Jerusalem to the pinnacle of the temple.  Hundreds of people would have been milling around the temple, the temple is a large place and it was THE place to be.  Standing on the pinnacle Jesus would have been in sight of thousands of Jerusalemites and the devil says to Jesus, ‘If you really are the Son of God, like you claim to be, go ahead and jump, throw yourself to the wind!  There’s nothing to worry about, angels will come to your rescue and ever so gently catch you so that not even you foot will touch the ground.’ 

But the devil was no publicity agent and Jesus didn’t need a life defying stunt to prove anything.  Jesus said, ‘Don’t test God’. ’  The second quick fix that Satan offered was halted, but he had one more up his devilish little sleeve.

The final test was concerning his power and authority.  ‘Jesus,’ the devil calls out, ‘you can have it all; all the kingdoms of the world will bow down to you all you have to do is to worship me.’  Now honestly, this was a good offer.  I’m sure there were plenty of people, Jesus too, who wished the end and destruction of the Roman occupation of first century Palestine.  To live as an oppressed people only breeds despair and anger; a sense of helplessness that perpetuates itself from one generation to the next.  Jesus had a chance to change all that just by dropping to his knees and worshipping HaSatan.  But NO!  Jesus states, ‘I worship God and serve only God.

Dashed three times the devil, goes away and Jesus was ministered to by angels.

Jesus was offered some pretty hefty and substantial quick fixes to his very real and distressing problems.  He was in the wilderness and needed sustenance, the very thing that the devil was offering.  How easy it would have been to turn even just one little pebble into a morsel of bread.  But Jesus resisted and relied heavily on God for sustenance in this desolate place. 

Jesus could have come back a hero to all of Palestine vanquishing the Romans but he chose to worship only God.  Jesus yells out ‘Stop this testing….it’s God, it’s all about God, God will give me nourishment, God will give me power to overcome adversity, and it’s God who will be my advocate.  Don’t test God.’   

Extraordinary faith Jesus displays in the most despairing of situations.  He was not seduced by the devil’s offer to make it all better quickly.  And clearly, by now, we and the reader’s of Matthew’s Gospel know that Jesus is the son of God.

We know that quick fixes are tempting when we are living in despair and we are at our most vulnerable.  It’s always easier to take the path of least resistance when our defenses are down and anything bright and shiny beckons our eye towards our liberation from our place of desolation.  A plug in a deflated tire until you get to the garage.  A new washer in a very old faucet.  Duck tape holding the hem of your pants ups.  A get rich quick scheme in times of recession and so on and so on.  Tempting. Enticing. Testing.    

When we are at our lowest is when our faith in God has the greatest potential to be tested.  Because it’s here we have our doubts, fears and we begin to question our human faith.  We wonder, we worry, why does it hurt, when will I be able to see the light?  That’s when quick fixes look really good.  Quick fixes endeavor to overshadow our faith and block our vision and sight of God, the one who loves us tremendously and who has promised never to leave us. The Lord says in the Book of Hebrews, “Never will I leave, nor will I forsake you”.(Hebrews 13:5).  We are not alone.

Lent is now upon us.  It begins in the wilderness, a somber and a deserted place.  It is a place where the days are long and lonely, the sun beats down upon a parched earth.  The wilderness is a place where the nights get cold and there is no light, no fire to keep you warm, and no food to fill your belly. 

It is here that we are invited to join Jesus, to come out of the wilderness and be on our way to Jerusalem and the cross with him. You might be reluctant but it’s almost as if he is extending his hand to ours and gently pulling us onto the dusty path.  He’s saying, ‘I’ve been there too, still, come, it’ll be alright’.  He knows of our suffering and pain, our temptations and resistance.  But his grip is firmer because he is with us on this journey, he is after all, God’s beloved. 

What are the tests in your journey of faith?  What, in your story of life, is of greatest concern to you?  In which areas are you tempted to find a quick fix rather than relying on God to help you alleviate your distress and despair?  Lent is the time to examine it all. 

Walking the Lenten walk.  Talking the Lenten talk will take you on an expedition into and through the wilderness.  It will separate us from other people because it will jolt us from our comfortableness and world of quick fixes and into the unknown.  It will not be unknown for long though.  Relying on God doesn’t mean doing nothing.  It means putting your full faith in God that what you are doing will bring you up and into the light of joy and hope all the while being held closely and lead by Jesus.


No comments: