Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
2nd Reading: Romans 10:8b-13
This reading from Luke is a kind of introduction to Jesus, as an adult. Earlier in Luke, we get the birth story, a little teenager story, part of the family story, and Jesus’ baptism. But now we get a picture of what to expect from his ministry. Today’s Gospel is telling us what kind of guy he is and by association, what kind of God he is the Son of. Which then reminds us who God is for us and who we are, as children of God.
Now remember that Jesus was just baptized by John, and now he is driven into the wilderness to go through these temptations. The first thing he does is fast. He gives up food for some time. It says here 40 days—it means a long time, like the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and 40 days and 40 nights that it rained in the Noah story. After 40 of anything like this, you start to lose track. The days all run together and pretty soon, you just know it has been a long time. Jesus fasted and it was for a long time.
We’ve lost the practice of fasting in our tradition—giving up food for any length of time. I have known 2-3 people who have majorly fasted for lent. One went on an all-juice diet. This isn’t something that you attempt without knowing what you are doing because you can seriously compromise your health. I’m in awe of my friend Muhammed who fasts during the day for the whole month of Ramadan. Many of us are willing to give up something small for lent, but not to eat for even a day is unthinkable. I get pretty weak and shaky and very grumpy if I don’t eat. I have a hard enough time saying no to food when I have just eaten!
So much of our life is spent in the pursuit of food, to give it up, even for a day would be pretty major. Think what that would free you up for, if you could concentrate on anything besides your grumbling stomach.
Then here comes someone dangling a loaf of bread in front of your face. Temptation. We can admire Jesus and his ability to resist temptation. We know that we often crumble in the face of temptation. But pay attention here to what Jesus’ answer says about him and God and us as God’s children. “One does not live by bread alone.” We are confused about what gives us life. Life isn’t just what we eat. Luke leaves us hanging without giving the answer. If we don’t live by bread alone, what do we live by? Perhaps it is up to us to figure it out. Remember in the parallel story in Matthew, it says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Rather than it being our food and ability to obtain it that defines us, it is God’s word. And what does God’s word say about us, it says we are God’s beloved children, as we heard at Jesus’ baptism and at our own.
What this says about Jesus’ ministry is that it isn’t going to be about self-preservation. It isn’t going to be that the one with the most bread wins. Instead Jesus is all about giving away that bread, and that’s what we are to be about as children of God. Anyone can gather and hoard bread, but it is something unusual to have the power to have as much bread as you want and not to take it.
This way, you know that you are a child of God, even if you don’t have enough to eat, maybe even especially when you don’t have enough to eat. Our God is God of the hungry.
The second temptation is one of glory and power. If it isn’t food that gives life, maybe it is power, things, kingdoms, and riches, the devil tempts. We sure act like it sometimes. We spend so much time in pursuit of those things. Yet again, Jesus shows this isn’t his priority and it won’t work out if it is ours, either. Our attention to these temporary things isn’t worthwhile—it doesn’t last. God doesn’t care about these things and neither does Jesus, God’s son. There are other priorities—things that last, a relationship with God, devotion to God.
Do we worship God because God can give us things and power? If so, Jesus shows us we’re barking up the wrong tree. We worship God who asks us to give up things, to give up power. God asks us give these things up for our own good. When we give up things, it takes away their power to control us. When we give up things and power, we share them with others who don’t have what they need to live. Our God is God of the powerless. He gave up power, even his very life, to show us that power isn’t what it is all about.
Now to the third temptation: The Devil tells Jesus to jump from the top of the temple. We know that later Jesus will hang from the cross and he will be mocked by those who say if he is the Son of God, he should save himself and climb down from the cross. Instead he dies there in pain and shame. I have a feeling if Jesus had thrown himself down, God would not have sent angels to rescue him. Of course, Jesus proves he is the Son of God by not doing so. He doesn’t need to try to get a reaction from God. He is secure in who he is.
What does this temptation say about God? It shows that God keeps us responsible for the consequences of our actions. If we jump, we bear the consequences. And it isn’t just on an individual level. If we dump pollutants in the air and water, jump from that cliff, we bear the consequences collectively. Of course, God loves and forgives us, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. But the things we do matter and can and often do separate us from one another, trash God’s beautiful creation, and hurt those we love.
We can also react individually and collectively to try to learn from our mistakes, clean up our messes, and prevent suffering as much as possible. Although God might seem cold and distant and uncaring in God’s refusal to react, that is not necessarily true. Instead, God made us to learn and react. We are God’s reaction, intervening on behalf of one another, especially the most vulnerable.
This story reminds us of who God is and who we are. Do we worship and love God for feeding us, giving us power and things, and because of the reactions we get from God? Of course not. We are not defined by what we have, how full our bellies are, or even whether we live or die. Since we have one God, there is one Lord of all, the hungry and the full, the powerful and powerless, and those who survive accidents and those who don’t make it. Our temporary circumstances do not indicate God’s favor or disfavor. Instead we can see our temporary circumstances as a gift to help us focus on what does matter, loving God and loving our neighbor. We can let them remind us who we are—God’s beloved children, where we came from—a wandering people, lost without God, and where we’re going—toward a more just world which will only come about if we take action and live a godly life where we don’t rely on our bread to save us, and instead share it, where we don’t need to hoard power and glory, but share them, and where we don’t need to be in the spotlight, but can share it, until God’s love is written on our hearts, until there truly is no distinction, but all of God’s creation is valued and cared for and saved, and where it is an opportune time for love to flourish.