Lent 1A: The temptation narrative

Below is the text of the Emmaus Baptist Community Lent 1A pilgrimage reflection from last Sunday – we went on a (rainy, squelchy!) walk along Merri creek as a ‘wilderness pilgrimage’ to reflect on the story and the questions it raises.

This episode is, of course, not the only time Jesus was tempted, but it is an archetypal story of temptation. It follows immediately on the heels of his baptism – in ancient societies what might have been called a ‘vision quest’ to deepen one’s groundedness.

We’ll be going on a mini version of a wilderness pilgrimage. You might like to take one of the ‘temptation’ icons with you to reflect on, or just spend time with the questions arising from the passage below.

1. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

‘The wilderness’ would immediately conjure up the experience of Israel in the wilderness for Matthew’s Jewish audience. As his first act post-baptism, Jesus returns here, perhaps to figure out where the story he is grounded in went wrong. What is the story you are grounded in, and where have they gone wrong?

Jesus is led by the Spirit to be tempted. Where is the gift in the experience of temptation for you?

‘Diabolos’ [often translated ‘devil’, here translated ‘tempter’] means accuser or slanderer. What accusations do you make of yourself? What accusations do you make of others?

2. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

It is at the point of Jesus’ greatest weakness that he was tempted. What are your points of weakness?

3. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God,

The ‘accuser’ begins by attacking Jesus’ identity as Son of God, an identity which has only recently been affirmed by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism. What difference does it make when you lose your sense of identity as child of God?

command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

The pressure for immediate, tangible results is a hallmark of our culture; patient waiting is rarely considered a virtue. How do you cultivate patience and slowness?

4. But he answered, “It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “

What opportunities do you give to hear the words that come from the mouth of God?

5. Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6. saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,’
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ “
7. Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “

The ‘devil’ tempts Jesus with a sense of entitlement to safety, security and privilege, regardless of what he does. Jesus responds by reaffirming God’s radical independence of any personal or political allegiance, preferring to side with the vulnerable whoever they might be. What types of entitlement (spiritual, material, social, political) do you find yourself assuming?

8. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;

The fact that all the “kingdoms of the world” can be seen together suggests that they are merely varying versions of the same idea. What is that idea(s) and how does it/they contrast with God’s Kingdom?

9. and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Is there any signficance to the devil/accuser/slanderer offering the “kingdoms of the world in all their splendour” to Jesus? If so, what is the significance?

10. Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ “

What other ‘god-substitutes’ do you find yourself chasing? The Bible often defines idolatry as the things we trust in for salvation (to save us). What do you trust in to save you?

11. Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Take at least five minutes to notice the presence of God with you now, waiting on you.

One more question:

What echoes of this story can you hear in the Lord’s Prayer?

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