The Rev. Jen Van Zandt
Matthew 4:1-11 (Version: The Message)
“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.” 4 Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” 5-6 For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.” 7 Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.” 8-9 For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.” 10 Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.” 11 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.”
“Love of the Most Difficult Kind”
There’s an old expression that says by the time we wake up Satan has already read the paper and had breakfast. This is a reaffirmation of Matthew’s narrative, because Jesus, in the previous chapter, the story right before this one, has just been baptized. He’s ready to commence his vocation. He’s anointed and empowered by God to carry out God’s purposes. He’s ready. He’s willing. He’s able to begin God’s word of fulfilling all righteousness. While on retreat, (while He’s preparing and prepping heart and soul for His calling), the Devil is alsoready and willing to carry out hismission: to see whether Jesus, in his vulnerable state of starvation, will still remain faithful to His calling, to carrying out God’s will.
In all three temptations, (and they get increasingly grandiose), Jesus does not use his stature, his role or his birthright or even his lineage to battle Satan. But we do. The minute that we’re challenged or threatened or feel our agenda is at risk of not getting accomplished, what we want – the way we want it, we pull rank. We claim our ‘years of expertise’, our education, our pedigree, our perceived wealth or stature.
I read a cute quip the other day about the Queen, who in her younger years was having a bit of a squabble with the Queen Mother. Exasperated the Queen Mum finally said to Queen Elizabeth, “Who do you think you are?” And Elizabeth replied, “The Queen, Mummy,I’m the Queen!” While we certainly don’t carry that pedigree, we too are very keen on elevating ourselves above the other all too quickly and all too often.
Imagine if we rework this narrative and Satan tempts Jesus to turn the stone into bread and Jesus replies, “I’m not going to do that, after all I’m Jesus the Christ!” Would that have stopped the debate? No. It would have only fueled the power struggle. Jesus outsmarts Satan instead with scripture in Deuteronomy, which of course, is irrefutable. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” or in The Message, which is what we read this morning, “It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” Here’s my question for all of us in this first week of Lent: What steady stream of words and thoughts are coming from our mouths?
In the second example, Satan steps up his game by quoting a portion of Psalm 91, claiming that God’s angels will catch Jesus if He just leaps from the pinnacle of the Temple. You know as mere mortals, when we get pushed, goaded to prove our power, our worthiness, our brilliance, we find ourselves behaving not like tekna theou(children of God). No, we just act like brats. So here’s my second question: Think about the last time that you flexed your muscle to prove your value, your worth that you were right? Be honest in this time of Lent, it was probably within last 24 hours.
Satan’s not making progress with Jesus but we’re already in Satan’s grip (not that we ever want to admit that). But now the devil is going to tempt Jesus too, with power and wealth and control just in exchange for worshiping Satan. For Jesus this actually is a no-brainer. In Peterson’s version, Jesus’ retort is like the tallest, strongest kid on the playground, seeing the bully and sending him away empty-handed. “Beat it Satan!” Jesus has got this well in hand. He knows how to resist Satan, especially when Satan is resisting God’s purposes.
So here’s my last question: In this first week of Lent, how are we, in thought, word and deed resisting God’s purposes? How are our egos being sidetracked from living out our baptisms? It’s a hard question and it’s a tall order, I know. But, again, Peterson’s language gives us a rich insight into how Jesus beats back the bully; beats back Satan. He says, “Worship the Lord God and serve Him.” And in Peterson’s language, “With absolute
single heartedness, serve the Lord with absolute single-heartedness.” If we did nothing else this Lent, even just this day, if we served God with absolute single-heartedness, the angels would be delighted to attend to us as well. May it be so. Amen