Jesus; From Mountaintop to Wilderness – Luke 4:1-13
Kathryn Matthews says that in today’s story, “we might say that Jesus sets the ground rules for his ministry and mission. The Son of God is not here to grab power for himself, or to show off how much he matters to God, or to work magic for the masses. That’s not how it’s going to work.”
Last week Jesus and three of his disciples climbed the mountain where they had an ecstatic vision of Jesus among Elijah and Moses, with God confirming Jesus as God’s beloved.
Today the scene moves to the desert. It was characteristic of God to lead God’s people out into the wilderness. We have heard that story before. Here, in solitude, Jesus will be confronted and here Jesus will stand or fall.
In the most vulnerable time of loneliness and hunger when his spirits were at the lowest, Jesus was tempted.
Mother Teresa, said: “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish [God] didn’t trust me so much.” I wonder whether Jesus might have had that in mind as he moved from the glory of the mountaintop experience to the harshness of the wilderness?
The three temptations begin with the words: “If you would…” These words imply, rather seductively, that there is a shortcut for Jesus to prove something.
“If you would do these things that lie within your power…we will all know with a shadow of a doubt whether God’s intentions for you is real.” The Tempter comes over, nearly as a friend, who is helping Jesus confirm his position. “If only…”
Three times Jesus resists the temptation to take the easy way out to confirm his identity.
Mary Gordon, in her book, Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels:
“One of the rare human achievements, is to be so sure of oneself that one resists the temptation to prove one’s own worth to someone else.”
And this Jesus does when he rebukes the friendly sounding Tempter and maintains his integrity and faith in what God had called him to do.
In the Bible there were really only two reasons why you ever ended up in the wilderness. You were either driven into the wilderness or you chose it as an escape from something or someone.
In the story of Hagar and Ishmael, it is Sara who has them driven into the desert to perish. In the story of Moses, it is where the people flee to after escaping from Egypt.
But whether you are driven into the desert or whether it is your only option, there is a third dimension in such a desert experience.
The desert is often the best place to hear God’s voice.
In the silence of the desert, stripped of all of one’s contentment and security, it appears that one’s spiritual hearing becomes super-enhanced.
Afraid, lonely, hungry and perhaps even stripped of hope, the voice of God is often at its clearest.
Abandoned in the wilderness, Hagar and Ishmael are resigned to die from hunger and thirst. It is then that God’s voice breaks through to them, assuring them of a future.
It is when the wandering people of Israel in their desert journey reached the points of total desperation that the voice of God came through the clearest.
When last have you had such an experience?
Kathryn Matthews writes; “[The] disciples, including us today, will have much to learn from that struggle, about priorities and power. We don’t often draw apart from the cacophony around us, or the incessant electronics of our lives, or the overload of messages and material objects, all of which seem to set up a smokescreen between us and God. Sometimes they’re a smokescreen, and sometimes they’re a thick, thick wall reinforced by our possessions, our place, our prestige–our security.”
How often do we not experience that “Thick, thick wall reinforced by our possessions, our place, our prestige—our security”? That wall that drowns out the voice of God and the experience of the Holy in our lives.
Last Sunday we spoke of seeking out those “thin places” where we feel closest to God’s loving presence. Is this not what we are called to figure out during Lent?
How can we transform these walls of seclusion and replace them with the thin veils of communion with the Sacred One?
Perhaps you might be someone who needs to seek out your own form of wilderness experience. Is it God inviting you into a time of solitude and struggle so you can find what it is you are hoping for? Is it time for us to strip down those “thick walls reinforced by our possessions, our place, our prestige—our security”. That wall which creates impregnable barriers between us and God.
And then there is a second possibility. Perhaps you are already in your own wilderness-experience, alone, hungry for hope and tempted to take the easy route out.
Maybe you have been there for a long time—more than 40 days and 40 nights. Perhaps your desire to understand and overcome has left you weak and desperate?
Then consider this. John Stendahl says:
“…the desert is not God-forsaken nor does it belong to the devil. It is God’s home. The Holy Spirit is there, within us and beside us. And if we cannot feel that spirit inside of us or at our side, perhaps we can at least imagine Jesus there, not too far away, with enough in him to sustain us, enough to make us brave” (New Proclamation Year C 2001).
A final thought. Henri Nouwen, wrote:
“Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions….Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
May you journey be blessed, whether it takes you to the mountain top of joy or into the desert of uncertainty. Always know this. You are and remain God’s Beloved.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.