Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent, II

- Ryan G. Duns, SJ

There are any number of ways to approach today's Gospel reading. Henri Nouwen, the priest and author, pointed out that Jesus' temptations are ones we today experience. Jesus' temptation to turn stones into bread is the temptation to relevance: I feel a draw always to matter, to be on the inside, to be of value or use to the group. None of us ever wants to be irrelevant, to be sure, but how easy is it to build one's identity on what one does rather than the person that one is

The second temptation Jesus face is to be spectacular. Throwing oneself from a parapet is certainly a way to get attention...some things don't change, even after 2,000 years! Yet think of the dynamic at play: it is so often desirable to "show off" or perform unnecessarily. In a world of Twitter, IM, Facebook and...gulp....Blogs, there can be a drive to be the center of attention, to have all eyes fixed "on me." 

The third and final temptation Nouwen indicates is the temptation to be powerful. Kingdoms were placed at Jesus' feet and, somehow, he rejected this seduction. Sometimes it seems as though power can substitute for love, that coercion can supplant charity. It is far easier to rule from the safety of a citadel than it is to make oneself in direct loving ministry to others. Jesus followed the latter path...and we killed him for it. 

In this Gospel, too, we see two different words used to describe "the Tempter." The first of these is the word devil (diabolos) that can be understood as the divider. Just as the serpent worked to divide Adam and Eve from God by tempting them to eat of the tree so, too, does the Devil tempt Jesus to turn his back on God and pursue a surer, clearer path. The devil works hard to separate persons, to fracture relationships, to pit one person against another....heavens, we need only watch Cable News to see the devil in full effect!

The second word used is Satan or "the accuser." I think of the Satan as a serial killer in bad horror movies: once the group has broken apart, each individual camp counselor is really easy to kill in macabre and creative ways. We, the audience, know that there's safety in numbers but there seems to be something about having an ax-wielding hockey-mask wearing killer hunting you that destroys our common sense and scatters us. The Satan tries to insinuate itself between Jesus and God, straining mightily to find the crack or crevice where he could start to pick apart at Jesus' sense of mission. As we know, however, Jesus stands firm and does not turn his back on God. The Devil, the Satan, cannot separate Jesus from his Abba, his the Tempter flees to bide his time. 

I have no question that there is a force of evil at work in today's world. I can, quite literally, turn on the television to see how we as a human family are being torn to shreds. Somewhere, I fear, the Tempter and "Enemy of our humanity" laughs gleefully because while his tactics have been laid bare by Jesus for over 2,000 years, we are still terribly blind to them. Perhaps this Lent will be a time when we can put our faith and confidence in our God with whom we will spend some forty days. Fortified by this sojourn in the desert, may we, too, be able to resist the wiles of the one who threatens to destroy us.


Clarence Heller said...

I just love Henri Nouwen's preaching with this Gospel story. It is available on You Tube at

Unknown said...

Thanks, Clarence, for the link! I'm going to try to post it here!

Nan said...

Thanks for bringing Nouwen to me on this first Sunday in Lent ... he is such an inspiration to me. And thanks for you thoughts on the 3 temptations ... we had just been talking about them at church this morning.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame