West Point Grey United Church
Feb 18, 2024

The Temptation of Jesu

Mark 1:9-15

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, a 40-day time (excluding Sundays) for reflection and serious thinking about the meaning of our faith. These days remind us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness soon after his baptism in the Jordan River, a time when he experienced severe hardships and hunger, and temptations that the devil threw at him.

Before looking at the details of these temptations, I invite you to look in a mirror and ask if you ever feel tempted. I know I experience temptations to eat more than I should, to put off until tomorrow what I should do today, to let someone else in the group follow through on the task we have agreed on. Are there temptations you face?

Some are very serious temptations that challenge our honesty, or our faithfulness to family members and close friends. Temptations to let someone else take the blame in order to make us look good; or temptations around our income tax filing.

We live in a world that is swamped with temptations. Dangled before us are invitations to travel to exotic places, and routine temptations to cheat, to lie, to seek revenge or to manipulate systems that benefit us and hurt others.

The world had less technology in Jesus’ time, but still he faced significant temptations. Luke’s gospel provides details about the temptations Jesus faced. First, Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days and the devil urges him to turn a stone into bread. Jesus resists and says “One does not live by bread alone.” Then there is the temptation to have power and control. Again Jesus refuses and replies “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Finally Jesus is tempted by the devil to play superman and show others that he is really the son of God by leaping from the pinnacle of the temple and getting up without a scratch. Jesus resisted this also, saying “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The devil doesn’t quit, according to the text, but merely goes away until the next opportunity comes along.

The question before us is not whether or not we are ever tempted, but how we respond to temptation. As we move forward in our faith journey, we respond to temptations in one of three ways.

  1. The first way is simply to give in to the temptation by saying or thinking “Well, everyone does it, so why not me?” …. Or “Oh if I don’t do it someone else will step right in and do it.  What difference does it make anyway?” We all know people who have a long list of reasons to justify their actions that hurt others, even though they themselves are diminished by what they do. But it’s not just other people. Sometimes it’s us! This is certainly not an easy topic for Lenten reflection.
  2. The second way of responding to temptation is accommodation, the notion that “it’s not really that bad”. Two years ago a small number of people organized a protest in Ottawa. They were soon joined by many others who pretended to be in favour of freedom. Together they caused the deaths and injuries of many, the loss of employment of thousands, the loss of billions of taxpayer dollars ….. all because they couldn’t resist the temptation to be part of a dazzling protest.
  3. The third way of dealing with temptation is the way of Jesus. Despite his hunger, Jesus said “No” to the devil’s suggestion, and repeated this answer to the other proposals. Jesus’ way was simple and direct. We too are called to refuse to give in to temptation in a simple and direct way.

To do this is not easy. It takes great strength to resist. It takes commitment and clarity to simply say “No”. The good news in our time is that through the years other followers of Jesus have demonstrated with faith and courage and determination that it is possible to say “No” to temptation. St. Francis of Assisi said no to the temptation to live a luxurious life because of his family wealth, choosing instead to follow the voice of God. Thousands of Christians, black and white, participated in the “Underground Railroad”, resisting the lure of power and the profits of the slave economy. Reverend Alex Trocme’ of Le Chambon, France, rather than give in to power and betray his Jewish neighbours to the Nazis, organized his whole parish to assist hundreds of Jewish people to escape to freedom and a new life.  Martin Luther King Jr.  gave inspiration and hope to millions, and gave his life, saying no to the temptation to have an easier, safer life by pulling back from the front lines in the struggle for equality for all.

Encouraged and strengthened by all those who have gone before us showing us that it is possible to say “No”, and the similar courage and strength of those who surround us in this time with their example ….

Let us resolve to respond to the temptations we face with compassion, faith and a firm “NO”.