Saturday, February 20, 2010

Broken Barriers

Luke 4:1-13

O Lord our God, on this First Sunday of Lent as we prepare ourselves to endure the coming 40 days, by Your blessed and Holy Spirit, bring us to a remembrance of those times when we completely trusted You and You alone. Bless this gathering and time of worship, that our hearts and minds would be open to Your Presence and Your Grace. Make us mindful of our need to repent, and make us mindful of your mercy to forgive. In the Name and by the Blood of Your Beloved Son, we ask and we pray. Amen.

“When the devil had finished every test, He departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.”Luke 4:13

I often wonder if there is ever a time in which we are not being tested, at least to one degree or another, by the Lord or by the tempter. And in that vein, I wonder if this is the reason why the Bible and our own John Wesley admonished us to be in constant prayer, “praying without ceasing”, studying Scripture, attending to those means of grace and Sacraments of the Church and learning to look at the world through the Lord’s eyes and not our own. This, of course, is that state of spiritual perfection we strive to achieve as we continue to grow in faith and in love, but we are also reminded almost daily that we are not … quite … there … yet.

The way Luke presents it – or at least, the way our English translation presents Luke – the evil one had exhausted “every” test. To me this means the devil had run out of options…. for the moment. He offered to Jesus every possible temptation that would come near to destroying just about any other mortal human, and Jesus either passed these tests or He failed them – all depending, of course, on one’s perspective.

He passed, of course, according to His divine Being; He really could have done no less, but this we know only with our 20/20 biblical hindsight. Jesus depended on the Word of the Lord to see Him through these particular temptations, these worldly challenges. Yet according to what we might consider to be more “normal” standards of human living, He failed miserably.

Think about it. According to your standards and mine, what fool in his right mind would turn down all that Jesus had turned down: FOOD after a 40-day fast, unlimited power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world, or super-human strength so as to never be hurt or feel pain?? Think of how much we could do FOR THE LORD if we only had all these resources and these powers at our command and disposal! Isn’t this a more “normal” standard of how the faithful think in terms of worldly possessions and relationships?? And then to use Scripture passages, regardless of proper context or appropriate application and only in increments as they will personally suit us at any particular time, well, isn’t this also how the faithful world turns?

To wait “until an opportune time” is somewhat ominous because what is implied, if not outright stated, is that the battle between good and evil, between Heaven and hell is far from over. Surely the evil one saw this moment as much of an “opportune” time as there would be and knowing human behavior as he must surely know, if “now” does not quite work out, there will always be “later”. What is “opportune” on any given day may not work as well, for instance, three days after payday as it might three days BEFORE payday, right?

The “opportune” time is usually at our weak moments, when we are stressed, when we are under the gun in any given situation whether it is at work, at home, or at play. There will always be a “more” opportune time to trip someone up. Always. And isn’t it ironic that in these moments of weakness when we are more subject to temptation, it is also in these moments of weakness when the Lord is at His mightiest, according to St. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)? Or is it that we are more susceptible to whatever influence will give us immediate relief or satisfaction? Of course, it all depends on which part of our self we choose to please and nurture.

The way this encounter reads, we are presented with an image of Jesus that is very hungry and maybe a bit physically weakened by the lack of food but is still calm, cool, and collected. The evil one offers one thing, and Jesus very casually dismisses him. However, some scholars suggest Jesus may have been internally conflicted. This is an interesting perspective when we consider that traditionally we have been taught that after His baptism, Jesus was led “by the Spirit”, of course, just as it is written, to deal exclusively with this imminent confrontation. In other words, Jesus knew by the Spirit exactly where He was going and what or whom He would be faced with.

Now to say that Jesus was simply going to the wilderness to pray and to fast in preparation for His earthly ministry is not off the mark, but it would be difficult to make this connection if He were to have been led only to deal with the evil one, the evil one perhaps waiting 40 days until Jesus is weakened to the point of human temptation. All of this matters and it all makes perfect sense, but we also must remember that Jesus was both divine and human. Surely it is possible for a conflict, at least on some level, to be present even within Jesus Himself. In fact, would a broader perspective on this passage suggest that the evil one could well represent the “flesh” that seems to be in almost constant conflict with the Spirit? Surely we can attest to this truth on any given day. Be hurt by someone? Hate them. It’s easy, it pleases us, and it suits us for the moment. But to forgive them? That takes some doing, some effort, some prayer, some spiritual discipline. We have to choose.

We know what struggle and temptation mean to us on a human level, but we don’t often make the disconnect between what we want and what we genuinely need because we confuse the two. To us, they are often one and the same. This “disconnect” is that barrier by which we relate to what we are tempted with only in how it will affect us physically or emotionally. In other words, we refuse something not because it may harm us spiritually but because it may wreck our diets, hurt our budgets, or damage a relationship. I dare suggest that we do not consider how powerful temptations can be and how spiritually destructive they can be if we surrender to them.

We are reminded on Ash Wednesday that there is a distinctive disconnect between our bodies and minds – and – our souls even as they can work in unison to a particular end. One will absolutely, positively, imminently die; there is no escape from this harsh truth even as we will virtually go to the ends of the earth and spare no expense in avoiding this certain reality.

The other seems more incidental to us and is often taken for granted. We don’t pay nearly as much attention to our spiritual well-being as we do our physical, mental, or emotional well-being. And we worry more about our human relationships than we do our spiritual one with the Lord. If we foul up with someone we love, we will pull out all the stops and beg and plead for forgiveness. But how many of us have heard Christians wave their hands and very casually, almost mindlessly say, ‘The Lord forgives me’ – yet they never really bothered to ask for that forgiveness. They simply expect it and thus take it for granted. How many of US are guilty of this very thing?

When we avoid those means of grace and those Sacraments of the Church, we avoid dealing with that better part of us which was imparted to us from Heaven and was given to us for a specific purpose: to empower us to reject evil and embrace good. We must surely understand that when humanity was created in the Divine Image, it had nothing to do with our faces, our skin tone, or the color of our hair. It stands to reason, then, that it is the SOUL that is the true reflection of that Divine part of us that requires as much, or more, attention than the rest of our being because it is the part which will endure forever.

There was once a barrier that prevented our human self from violating that spiritual and better part of our self. It was the Divine Image in which we were created. And that barrier was broken the day humanity chose the pleasure and self-satisfaction of the mortal self over the edification of the spiritual self, when it was made clear that we trust our own instincts over our soul that is informed, taught, and led by the Holy One. Once that barrier was broken, it just got easier to the point that today we attempt to re-create God into an image more aesthetically pleasing to our mortal, physical self.

As we navigate this challenge time that is Lent, let us recognize that better part of our self – our soul – as that part which enables and empowers us to reconstruct that broken barrier by learning again to Trust In Him, to surrender ourselves to Him so that He may, by His own Mighty Acts, restore us to that Divine Image. Amen.

Almighty and Everlasting God and Father, your blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan and to prepare Himself for His earthly ministry. Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by these many and same temptations we face each day. And as You know the weakness of each of us, let each of us find You mighty to save – from ourselves AND from the evil one; through Christ Jesus our Lord, Your beloved Son. Amen.

No comments: