On The Menu
This is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent has traditionally been a time used to prepare people for Baptism, and confirmation of faith, and for those already confirmed in faith to reflect upon their Baptisms. Good Friday and Easter are the most important observances of the Christian year. Preparing for these events is not, at least for those not leading in worship, about outward trappings but inner awareness and grounding. It should not be like wedding planning; deciding on venues, making guest lists, what food to serve, and decorations. The readings for the first Sunday in Lent always include the story of Christ’s temptation.
Christ’s temptation reflects the experiences of Moses’ 40 days on the mountain with no food, Israel’s 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and Elijah’s 40 days in flight to the mountains. In Luke’s Gospel, the story of the temptation of Christ particularly draws Israel’s wilderness experience first into the life of Jesus and beyond that into the life of the church. Just as Luke focused his gospel on the path of Jesus’ ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem he changed the order of the temptations so that they culminated with the Temple in Jerusalem. The three temptations in the Gospel lesson, and which I used for my sermon series title, are Food, Power, and Minions and address three themes; personal or social temptation, political temptation, and religious temptation. Today, as we begin our preparations, we will focus on the personal temptation.
Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted for 40 days. Luke tells us that in that time he ate no food. When the Devil began his testing it was on a personal level. How many of you could go 7 days with no food at all? I know I couldn’t! Jesus was famished. As a human being, his deepest drive must have been to meeting this most basic physical need, but though he had no food he was full. He was full of the Holy Spirit. So, when the Devil suggested he turn the stone into bread, he quoted from Deuteronomy 8 saying, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”
Was this test really about food? If we have eaten enough we are full. If we have not eaten we are hungry. When our consumption runs amok we are guilty of gluttony. But do we only hunger for food? There are, of course, too many in our society today who are physically hungry. From our side their need is clear and the solution is food. Though this is a much more complex issue, we are not going to focus on that today. It seems that we are all hungry; hungry for more, hungry for new, hungry for the best, just that one more thing will make us fulfilled!
Let’s look at the context of Jesus’ quote. Deuteronomy is the final sermon of Moses. He and the Israelites are now on the border of the Promised Land and he is preparing them for their future, reinforcing all that God had commanded them through him. In Chapter 8, Moses is said to them,
“2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:2-3)
Theologian Fred E Craddock says of today’s passage that the Devil chose the perfect time for this testing of Jesus. The narrative in Luke chapter 3 ends with Jesus’ baptism and the words, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” (Luke 3:23) Before his ministry had time to take shape; before sermons; before casting out demons; before healing the sick; the Devil wanted to see if he could influence or sabotage it.
In a brilliant work of satirical writing called The Screwtape Letters, C S Lewis has letters written by one of the Devil’s main demons, Screwtape, to an apprentice or sorts named Wormwood. If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it! The letters are one side of a supposed correspondence between the two on the issue of how best to ensure that Wormwood’s patient (victim from our point of view) goes to hell. He gives instructions on how best to distract a patient from any attention to the word of the Enemy (God) and leanings in the way of becoming and living a Christian life. In one letter Screwtape notes that gluttony, one of the deadly sins, is perhaps the easiest to encourage given that it is not actually restricted to quantities of consumption but also on luxury. So we are lulled easily into thinking that just because we have a relatively moderate consumption of food, fashion, and leisure activity etc. is not enough. When we stare at the open fridge full of food and see, “nothing to eat,” we should not be too quick to congratulate ourselves on choosing not to snack.
Note that he was full of the Holy Spirit throughout the story, that this did not protect him from being tempted. Temptation is a basic human condition. Luckily we have, as did Jesus in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit with us and the word of God to work against the Devil’s temptations. As we leave here today and go through our weekly routines remember the words from one prayer I found for the first Sunday of Lent.
“You declare, “It is written,” and Satan flees. Teach us the power of your Word. Remind us that Satan cannot stand before the blinding glare of your Father’s revelation…We are not weak and helpless before him after all. We have your strong Word to defeat the Tempter.” (Kuntz, 1993)