Day 8: Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’“
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’“
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’“
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4: 1-11)
One week in and what have I learned? That my friends will persistently tempt me away from observing Lent.
Evangelical types will no doubt tell me that they are awful, God-hating friends that I should cast out from my life. But these are the same people who would suggest I not read Harry Potter or listen to Nirvana or “be ye of the world” (because that’s the kind of language they use). Me, I say: “Away from me, ye evangelicals for ye know not to whom you speak.”
I don’t know why my friends and colleagues are doing it: the tempting.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve chosen to give up alcohol. I won’t flatter myself to imagine they want me to be drinking; I’m a mouthy drunk. It may be because my choosing to abstain from something indulgent challenges them to consider their own habits. I know that’s how I feel when a friend is on a diet, or regularly exercises, or is able to get up early every morning. I am instinctively challenged to consider why they can do it and I cannot.
And so I ask them why they do so and then why they don’t give themselves a break once in a while… I tempt them away in order to assuage my own sense of inadequacy.
I have chosen to give up alcohol because I drink too much. It makes me sluggish, it makes me belligerent, it makes me emotional and it eats into my disposable income. I have chosen to give up alcohol because it is not easy and one of the reasons it isn’t easy is that people will naturally tempt you away – not maliciously, often subconsciously (“I’m going to the bar, do you want a drink?”) – which is surely part of what Lent is about, if this passage from Matthew is anything to go by.
In the bible Jesus goes out into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. At the end of which time he is, somewhat unsurprisingly, hungry. It is then that the gospel writer brings in the character of the devil to tempt him. Meanwhile us feeble humans are asking: surely he had enough temptation the 40 days and nights before? Surely he spent a large number of those days and a longer number of nights thinking, “Why am I in this desert anyway? It’s not as if anyone is here to see me. Gosh, I’m hungry.”
If he had his disciples around they would have been saying, “Come on Jesus, why not have a piece of bread?” Especially if Mark was telling the story.
I don’t think this story of temptation is meant to be used by us in any particular way except to demonstrate that Jesus was the Son of God (an example of early Christology). I think we’re meant to read that second sentence – After fasting forty days and forty nights – and take up the challenge ourselves because it isn’t easy and it will set us apart.
Why have you given up, or taken up, what you have chosen to this Lent? Is it easy? Are you being tempted away? Do you feel that you are setting yourself apart?
Once you starting asking questions of tradition they themselves become reLentless…