We enter the season of Lent with this story of temptation that takes place just after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, and just before Jesus calls his disciples and begins teaching on the hillside. We talk about what happens in this story as temptation. Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. But I think this story is much more about seduction than it is temptation, and I’ll tell you why.
I’m reminded of Edmund, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Edmund is the third child in a family of four children. He is overshadowed by his older brother Peter, and Edmund suffers from a lack of confidence that contributes to a rather unfortunate series of decisions. When the children enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe, they encounter eternal winter, brought on by the despicable Queen. The Queen approaches Edmund and tempts him with the sugary concoction, Turkish delight, and some warm and wonderful hot cocoa as well. Thus begins Edmund’s turn toward the despicable Queen, and away from the Lion Aslan, his brother and sisters, and all that represents.
You see, just about without an exception, temptation looks and feels delicious. It is part of our very humanity to seek out that which we believe is positive, pleasurable, and good. We always embark on the road to perdition with the belief that it is in fact a good. That is the nature of seduction. It begins with a beautiful face, it begins with a ripe red apple, it begins with mouth watering tastiness, it begins with the promise of relief, escape, pleasure, it begins in wonder and amazement, but many times it does not end well. And yet, often we are powerless to know it or to see it.
The great seducer in our gospel today shows Jesus three wonderful and amazing things. First, stones that may become bread. It may be hard to imagine yourself as Jesus, or not, but try for a moment. You are concerned about poverty and starvation all over the known world. Your instructions to those who follow you are to feed the hungry; over and over you ask your friends and followers to feed the hungry. And here you are presented with a solution to world hunger. Command these stones to become bread. That’s it, that’s all it takes. There are enough stones in the world if they all became bread there would be no child going to bed hungry at night. Who wouldn’t say yes? Feeding people is good, isn’t it?
Second, ultimate safety. If you were unable to be hurt, you would be able to continue to relieve world hunger forever and for always? If you were unable to be hurt, you would be able to love everyone all the time? If you are unable to be hurt, you would not have to go to the cross to die? Sounds like a good, doesn’t it?
Third, authority. Everyone and everything answering to you. With ultimate authority, everyone would follow your rules and your rules are good rules. Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. The world would be perfect if you were in charge.
What’s so wrong with this scene? Nothing at all. Nothing at all. That is the nature of seduction. It looks so good. It tastes so good. It feels so good. It must be right. We are human after all. What makes this story so powerful is that we have been there. Each and every one of us has been there; we may even be there yet today. This is about Jesus, and it is about each of us. You see, it isn’t black and white, right or wrong, it isn’t obvious or clear, and don’t let anyone seduce you into thinking that it is. This journey of life is full of choices, which is God’s gift to us, choice, and a pile of love to go with it, because we know that God's love wins. Even Jesus had the choice, the choice to follow the seducer, the choice to give in to the pain and suffering of his journey, the choice to walk away from the cross.
So what does this journey look like? We are on a journey together, you and me and all the others. All the best heroes have their posse’s with them. Edmund had his brother and sisters and all the animals of Narnia, Luke had Han Solo, Lea, Chewbacca, and the Holy Trinity of Obi-wan, Anakin, and Yoda, Harry has Hermione and Ron and the whole Weasly family, Woody has Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex and Hamm, you get the picture. We take this journey together; together we share the strength, the wisdom, the courage to make choices, good or bad, right or wrong.
Us humans live daily, maybe even moment-by-moment in the reality of this seduction. It is being fully human after all, what is so amazing is the love that God has for us and the forgiveness that God is willing to heap upon us time, after time, after time. We miss the mark, and Jesus continues to stand with us, surrounded by our company of friends, loved ones, and supporters, and Jesus puts his arms around our shoulders, straightens us out, gives us strength and courage, and shows us how to hit the mark dead center. And, while the enemy arrow comes right at him, Jesus also says, let me step into your place and take the arrow for you.
In our lifetimes, we don’t ever feel the absence of seduction and temptation. We are however forgiven. That is where we begin this journey of lent, in the place of examination and forgiveness. We have this opportunity to turn to God, to examine ourselves, to ask again for forgiveness, to look upon our mortality and fall on our knees and ask for the help we need, because we cannot do it on our own. We cannot walk this journey without the one who created us, the one who walks with us, the one who sustains us, and with one another. To believe we can is to succumb to the seduction of vanity, self-absorption, egotism, and selfishness.
And we see much of that vanity, self-absorption, egotism, and selfishness in our culture today. There are so many temptations in this world, so much seduction. Most of them coming not as apples hanging from a tree but rather subtle messages that seek to undermine our identity and invite us to forget whose we are. Remember on Ash Wednesday I told you that the ashes remind us who we are and whose we are. So many commercials suggest we are inadequate. So many headlines suggest that there is not enough to go around. And so many politicians – of all parties – contend that we have a great deal to fear. In the face of these identity-obscuring messages, we have the opportunity to root our lives in the same baptismal promise that safe-guarded and empowered Jesus. This is the baptismal promise that reminds us that God says we are so totally enough, that there is plenty to go around, and that we need not live in fear.
On Ash Wednesday I invited you to think about that which you may set aside this lent. It is not about giving up something you love, but it is about abstaining from that which gets in the way of your relationship with God and with one another. What seduces you into believing that you can walk this journey on your own? What seduces you into believing that you are right and others are wrong? What seduces you into believing that you are immortal, what seduces you into believing that you are not enough, or that you are not God’s beloved? What is it that you will abstain from this lent?
I invite you, God’s beloved, to journey together; I invite you to a holy lent.