2012 Lent I

First Sunday in Lent
February 26, 2012
Verse 11 of St. Matthew 4:1-11
“Don’t Let Yourself Be Tempted”

“Not that there is anything wrong with that!” I think I first heard the expression used on a re-run episode of the comedy series, ‘Seinfeld.’ Though I’m not certain it originated with that comedy series; it was often incorporated into many an episode to prompt laughter.

The expression is reflective of a society increasingly indulgent and permissive. It views temptation and sin as irrelevant, having no bearing on life, as if the two simply do not exist! Hence, we’re being conditioned into becoming an amoral society as the result! ‘Not that there is anything wrong with that!

There are a legion of ‘reality shows’ that beckon our attention, supposedly unscripted and spontaneous, that are promoted as representative of our ‘happening’ culture and society – most of them being far from representative of the mind and morals of the mainstream America, it considers backward!

Well, Lent is confession time! I must confess to you I watched in particular one ‘reality’ show through its many seasons (‘Survivor’), but I’ve determined I won’t be giving it any more of my time! Though I found it entertaining at the time, what it had to offer the viewer under the guise of entertainment was a choreographed contest of mind, will and physical strength that encouraged, exhibited and emphasized the worst of traits in its cast of participants.

The circuses of ancient Rome provided ‘entertainment’ for the masses – but they could never be classified as representative of the ‘best’ of the human spirit. Rather such were brutal, deadly contests that pitted prisoners one against the other in gladiatorial battle fought to the death: death inflicted either by mortal wound or downturned thumb! On occasion the masses were entertained with the spectacle of watching groups of defenseless Christian men, women and children torn asunder by ferocious beasts!

The television ‘reality’ show we afore mentioned is not to be compared with barbaric Rome! But it is a ‘gladiatorial’ contest in that it pits individuals against each other to do psychological and physical combat against one another; encouraging them to do whatever it takes to outplay and outlast the other opponents, in order to become the sole survivor and the winner of a sizeable chunk of change!

Deception, manipulation and betrayal are the spirit of the game; and it is strictly ‘player beware.’ No one was to be trusted! If one player assured another that they had the other’s back – it usually meant ‘within their sites’! Predictably some unsuspecting soul would eventually be blind-sided by team mates. It is a spec-tacle of the worst of human behavior. And this is packaged and presented to the viewing public for what is termed ‘entertainment’! Well, no longer for this viewer, thank you!

One might anticipate deplorable behavior portrayed in folks who perhaps have not time, consideration or use for moral or ethical thinking. For some people, cash takes precedence over conscience! And they make no bones about it! What is disappointing is when a person engages in such competition boastfully claiming to be a believing and practicing Christian. The announcement usually causing the other participants to roll their eyes!

A few such folks will sign on to the adventure, professing to all (at least to the viewing public) that they were going to play the game as Christians: on a higher level, an ethically moral level; to show it can be played that way, and to set an example for the others, and to serve as witnesses for Jesus Christ. One or two in partic-ular even professed, or claimed to be ‘born-again’ Christians.

Most all these Christian ‘crusaders’ wore their religion on their sleeve! Sooner than later however, they were willfully participating in the same lying, cheating, deceiving, backstabbing and blind-siding as were the others. ‘Not that there is anything wrong with that!’

Sometimes they would drop to their knees or join hands in prayer to thank the Lord – not only when following victory in a contest; but also after their most recent blind-siding of an unsuspecting teammate! Their concept of ‘witnessing for Christ’ proved both a travesty and an embarrassment. All for the sake of a prize! What a pathetic sight this was!

I recall one of them did have the grace to man-up to his moral failure and poor example. But it wasn’t long before he was back in the fray using the same tactics as all the others. It was naïve of him to think he could be some sort of ‘paragon of virtue’ in that cut-throat a situation, and that he would manage to remain unscathed during the experience. In the end, it wasn’t God or prayer that failed him; it was his foolish PRIDE that did him in!

Okay! Let’s get down to today’s gospel account: Jesus in the wilderness, his forty days fast, and being thereafter tempted of the devil; not once, not twice, but thrice!

The initial scene takes place, not on some isolated island in the Pacific, but in the foreboding wilderness. Not with a team of players present; only Jesus, alone by himself. And now famished! He has the good sense to know that he is vulnerable and will be tempted; and that he needs be prepared for it. This he has already done, achieving the forty day fast. As we soon learn, also by being learned in the scriptures; which he will be able to use as his defense against the only other personage soon to appear, in a deadly contest about to commence.

It is at the end of the wilderness fast he has just completed (when Jesus is on a spiritual ‘high’ as a result of it) that the attempt to ‘blind-side’ him comes by way of the Tempter, the Master of Deceit and Prince of All Lies – the Devil.

He employs a very clever and cunning technique on his victim: he builds upon the experience that Jesus Christ has just concluded! You’re on a high; but I’ll bet you are famished! He tries to entice Christ to reward himself for his piety: You deserve to be rewarded! Why not with a little immediate sustenance! Why, with your powers you needn’t delay to satisfy your hunger. IF you wish and will, you can turn those stones over there into bread!

It takes Jesus less than a millisecond to see this for what it is: A temptation to misdirect his powers, though they are completely at his use – but not for a quick-fix to satisfy a whim! Jesus reaches for ammunition from scripture: ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ Jesus ‘food’ is to do the will of the Father (He who sent him); not to perform magic to satisfy an empty belly!

Next, the Tempter hints to Jesus, that he is deserving of divine protection! The clever one knows best the way to trip someone up is to place before them something they are familiar with, and may rely in or rely on! But then to quickly snatch it away and watch the fall! (Do Lucy, Charlie Brown and a football come into mind?). So the Tempter quotes to Jesus from the 91st Psalm; something Jesus would know by heart.

From atop the highest point of the Temple, where Jesus finds himself and is looking down, the Tempter puts in mind the 11th and 12th verses of the Psalm. As the Lord is the fulfillment of the Scriptures that must surely mean he has special protection of the Father, and the support of the hosts of heaven. Go ahead; put it to the test, Jesus! But Jesus will not be tempted to destroy himself. He has been sent, not to tempt the goodness of the Father; but to do the Will of the Father. The Tempter has failed now a second time!

With those two attempts having failed: 1st, to get to Jesus through his stomach, and 2nd, through curiosity and pride to test out the limits of the possible; he next takes him for a ride up. And from the top of a very high mountain, Jesus can survey from there everything around him. From far off in the distance where he can see Jericho, and over there where once stood ancient Sodom, it stands all before him. He could be ruler of all he surveys – IF! If Jesus will but transfer allegiance and give abeyance to the Princedom of Satan, a golden reward will be all belong to Jesus – IF! This would demand so little effort! And no Cross required!

And isn’t that the way Satan tries to tempt us too? To avoid having to embrace all the trouble and pain that being a Christian in this world is sure to cause one. It’s the more realistic, practical, and far easier thing to do – simply make Christ secondary in your life. The Tempter will also offer one all sorts of enticements to spirit you away, and to his way!

Wouldn’t life be a lot easier for us IF we gave up the spiritual struggle, and submitted to him? We could satisfy our appetites to taste of the world without guilt of conscience. We could live life as if there were no limitations on life. We could have everything we wished for and be the master of whatever our hearts desired. ‘Not that there is anything wrong with that!’

‘Not that there is anything wrong with that’ meaning: succumbing to his temptations to lie, to connive, to deceive, to cheat, to steal, to backstab, to betray and take advantage of others. All for a prize that would turn out to be nothing more than a mirage; then to be welcomed and ushered into his everlasting Princedom below. If that temptation sounds less than tempting to you, if you find the very idea repugnant, that says you have the conscience to resist temptation – if you wish to, and are willing to, and are ready to. Not by your own power; but by and with the help and power of Christ.

Paul warned, ‘We fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places.’ You see we face and are at battle with a far fiercer enemy than any earthly one. We are at battle with the Tempter, Satan, the Devil.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by him when he prompts your conscience to think: ‘there is nothing wrong with that!’ Flee from the Tempter, and behold, angels will come and minister unto you! Now there is every-thing right with that!