First Sunday of Lent
The dictionary defines marvel (as a person) as one who is wondrously astonishing. With apologies to Captain Marvel, this week’s gospel text reveals one at whom we should truly marvel, and beyond that, one we should follow.
We receive Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness filtered through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And it’s glorious.
Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit post-baptism, is led around in the wilderness by that same Spirit. Wilderness, by its nature, is a dangerous place to be—not cultivated or civilized, it is a locale that puts your life at risk. This makes it a good place to get your priorities straight.
On top of this, Jesus doesn’t eat the whole time he’s there–(40 [a long time] days, hearkening back to the long time Israel spent wandering in the wilderness), so he is mighty hungry—which makes him vulnerable. And doesn’t the devil know that makes it an opportune time for temptation.
But going into this story, we already know some things about Jesus. We know of his love for God, which had him seeking God in the temple as a youth while his desperate parents searched for him. We know of God’s love for Jesus, spoken at his baptism. We know Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, who led him into the wilderness.
Many of us might be familiar with what happens next. The devil first tempts the famished Jesus to use his power, if he is the Son of God, to command a stone to become one loaf of bread. Jesus counters this by quoting part of Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone.” Every Jew would have known the second half of that quote: “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Jesus will trust God to provide for his needs.
In the second temptation, the devil invites an exchange—Jesus’ worship for the glory of all the kingdoms of the world. The devil has used twice as many words (at least in the English translation) as what was used in the first temptation. Jesus counters with Deuteronomy 6:13, adding that we are only to worship and serve God. More authority is given to Jesus, but it comes to Jesus from God. Jesus will trust in God’s plan.
By the third temptation, the devil takes a page from Jesus’ book, and quotes—”it is written”— from Psalm 91: 11-12. At the pinnacle of the Temple, the devil dares Jesus to throw himself down. If he is the Son of God, surely God will save him. As R. Alan Culpepper points out in his commentary on Luke, the devil is tempting Jesus in Jerusalem to have God save him from the death that such a fall would bring. Jesus counters with the first part of Deuteronomy 6:16, though he prefaces it this time with “It is said…” (perhaps Jesus’ way of saying I see what you’re trying to do there). Maybe the devil actually helps Jesus here, making his obedient decision to take the cruciform way the next time he is facing death in Jerusalem somewhat easier to make.
I know a young man who plays the virtual reality game Beat Sabre a lot (he’s ranked 33rd in Canada and 324th in the world). The game has a multitude of cubes in two colours that fly at the player, which they must cut in half with the correct light sabre in the direction indicated on each cube, all the while dodging walls and bombs that also fly at them. I’ve watched him play, and been amazed at his ability to handle the challenge. He’s explained to me that he has no time to think about which direction he needs to go in. It happens on an unconscious level after much practice with the patterns. Much the same way a baseball player is able to hit a baseball going 90 miles (225 km) per hour.
Jesus so loves God that he is completely devoted to the purposes of God. Jesus’ devotion has been shaped by disciplined practice in the patterns of faith, including prayer and a bone-deep knowledge of scripture. As disciples of Jesus, we too are called to these patterns of faith—to learn them so well that they automatically guide our decisions and actions in Christ—and we are also called to this profound love.
Through Jesus’ love of and obedience to God, Jesus fulfills the Shema, Israel’s confession of faith that begins, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5).
I am struck by the beautiful Trinitarian nature of this text, with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the steadfast love of God, and the faithfulness of Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus’ faithfulness fulfills what we could not, for the sake of the world God so loves.
Such faithfulness is marvelous to behold, as it beckons us on to God’s kingdom come.