Desert Temptation (If You Are the Son of God. . .)  by John Kinney, March 12,2023

It is always good to with my brothers and sisters in Christ in person and on zoom. For denominations that follow a liturgical calendar, this is the 40-day season of Lent which commemorates Jesus’s 40 days of fasting in the desert.  The gospel reading for the first week in Lent was Matthew 4:1-11

 ‘If you are Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says: Human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The devil then took him to the holy city and set him on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says: He has given his angels orders about you, and they will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.’ Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels appeared and looked after him.

The temptations can be summarized as the 3 P’s. Possessions–unlimited bread. Prestige–Hey look I just jumped off the parapet and angels saved me. Power-political.  The most alluring one is power. If I can be in control then I can fix everything, make it right. Of course I am the one who will decide what is right. Here are some examples of how things can go south when you or your organization is in total control.

  • There are 13 countries where being gay is punishable by death. 
  • Prior to the reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had all of Europe in its’ back pocket and had power to call the shots everywhere.  The Doctrine of Discovery papal Bull issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452 stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers with the right to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans…to reduce their persons

to perpetual slavery and to take away all theirpossessions and property. Praise you Jesus.

My comments were very typical. Nothing new. No major insights. What I will read next is word for word from Episcopal priest Fr. Mike Marsh.  I found it on his, “Interrupting the Silence” site.  He consistently has unique insights.

Fr. Mike:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” That’s the first line in today’s gospel and my first thought is, “Well, that is not fair.  The Spirit and the devil in cahoots?

What are we supposed to do with that? Maybe it’s an opportunity to reconsider the wilderness and temptation. Maybe there is more to temptation than a test of our faithfulness, morality, or will power. After all, St. Anthony said, “Without temptations no one can be saved”

What if we saw the wilderness as a classroom and the temptations as our teacher? What if temptations are necessary to our self-knowledge and growing into wholeness? Maybe that’s what is happening in today’s gospel. 

How many temptations does Jesus undergo?  Three, right? That’s the obvious answer. Three is not an incorrect answer, but I wonder if it might be an incomplete answer. What if there is a fourth temptation? What if the fourth temptation is a universal temptation that runs through and underlies the other three? And what if it’s the temptation that you and I are always struggling with? What if all the other temptations are just variations on this fourth one?

One of the things I’ve recognized in my life is that my temptations aren’t really between me and someone or something else. My temptations are almost always a struggle between me and myself. The fourth temptation is the temptation to betray ourselves. In some ways it’s the first temptation. I betray myself before I betray you or give in to any other temptation. And I think that’s what Jesus is facing in the wilderness. Here’s why I say that. 

Immediately before today’s gospel Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River “and a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:17) “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

“Son, beloved, well pleased.” That’s who God declares Jesus to be. Jesus hasn’t done anything to earn or prove himself to be those things. And that’s true for you and me too. “Son or daughter, beloved, well pleased.” That’s who we are regardless of what we’ve done or left undone. They are a given for Jesus and us. They are the Father’s view of Jesus, and of you and

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me. Hold on to them. I’ll come back to them in a minute because I think they are central to Jesus’ and our temptations.

The way Matthew tells it Jesus goes from river water to desert sand with nothing in between. There’s no lunch with family and friends celebrating his baptism. He doesn’t teach or preach about what just happened. And he doesn’t perform any miracles. Instead, he entered the wilderness with the Father’s words clinging to him like wet clothes. He goes from baptism to temptation. “The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God…”

With those words the tempter has raised the possibility, a doubt, that Jesus is not the Son of God. That temptation will follow Jesus to the cross where “those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

“If you are the Son of God …” That’s not a question between Jesus and the tempter, Jesus and God the Father, or Jesus and those who deride him. It’s a question between Jesus and himself. No one else can answer it for him. And no one else can answer it for you and me. It’s a question each of us must answer for ourselves.

That’s the fourth temptation. It’s the temptation for Jesus to doubt that he is the Son of God and prove himself by turning stones into bread. It’s the temptation to doubt that he is God’s Beloved and prove it by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple into the hands of angels. It’s the temptation to doubt that God is well pleased with him and seek approval and recognition from another by falling down and worshipping Satan, the deceiver.

I’ve never been tempted to turn stones into bread but I have often been tempted and tried to prove myself, haven’t you? And haven’t there been times when you did or wanted to do something to remind and assure yourself that you are beloved? And how often do we betray ourselves trying to seek another’s approval or recognition? 

When I am in touch with my deepest identity and value I usually remain true to myself. But when I’m disconnected from my true identity and value I often betray myself. And that’s exactly what Jesus will not do. He stays true to himself. He doesn’t magically overcome his temptations, he uses them to clarify and deepen his life. They are less a choice about what he will or will not do and more a choice about who and how he will be. What if that’s how we approached our temptations?

It would be tempting to say, “Well he’s Jesus, and I’m me. He’s got an advantage I don’t have.” That is just another betrayal of ourselves. Jesus doesn’t say no because he’s smarter, better, or

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more holy than us. He says no because he refuses to violate or betray himself. He will not turn away from himself or run from his life. He makes a choice about who he wants to be, what matters most to him, and how he wants to live. 

Me: The fundamental temptation is to doubt our true identity.  If we doubt that then we will seek our validation and affirmation in the really cool car we have, the award we just received, our title, the number of people we supervise. We will always be testing the waters.  How do I look?  How many likes did I get?  When you do that you are building your house on sand.  The winds of approval can change at any minute. We can betray ourselves by going in the other direction when we beat ourselves up about how sinful and unworthy we are.  But we are God’s beloved.  That is what we need to come to truly believe in our heart, mind and soul and believe the same is true for everyone, the “light” within all. People living out of their true identity are untouchable.  At peace.  Happy.  No much can upset them.  Their house rests on a rock solid foundation. Imagine how that would change the world.  The kingdom of heaven would truly be at hand, right here, right now.


What is tempting you today to doubt that you are a beloved child of God with whom God is well pleased?

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