Scripture for the first Sunday of Lent:
Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13
Temptation. This features prominently in the first Sunday in Lent. It conjures up echoes of that line from the Lord’s prayer: ‘lead us not into temptation.’ This is an English translation of a Greek record of an Aramaic-speaking Jew two thousand years ago, and so there are bound to be challenges in translation. The Spanish version is closer to the intent of the original New Testament: ‘… no nos dejes caer en la tentación …’ Which might be read as, ‘don’t leave us to fall into temptation,’ … or, ‘don’t let us fall in temptation …’ – translation can, indeed, be tricky!
Does God lead us into temptation? Did the Spirit lead Jesus into temptation in the wilderness? That is not exactly what Luke’s gospel says. It says that Jesus was led into the wilderness, and that there he was tempted – as so many of us are in the wilderness places of our lives.
‘Wilderness’ might conjure up different images for different people. But an experience of isolation and discomfort, or deprivation, will open us to learn truths about ourselves that might not always be how we (or God) would wish us to be; nevertheless the learning is valuable.
In the case of Jesus, the time in the wilderness led him to face questions and learn something about his role and his ministry – how he was to take charge of his destiny and whether he could be useful, relevant and noticeable. Yet Jesus was able to triumph over the temptations that he faced – accusations, really – by relying upon his faith in God’s plan and God’s timing.
In Deuteronomy the people of Israel are reminded that to reach the promised land they had been nomadic, descendants of a wandering Aramean – people who had been unable to resist putting God to the test. Jesus was able to do so. How often are we able to do so?
We might remember that in Hebrew the devil’s name is Satan, or ‘accuser,’ and that the temptations that Jesus faced were reframed accusations (was he being sufficiently useful, relevant, or noticeable?), in the face of which he resolutely persisted with following God’s plan. And they might be seen as temptations to judge where God should be judging – something which humans are very prone to do. If we want to give up something for Lent, perhaps we could give up being judgemental.
Meanwhile, Lent encourages us not only to be in solidarity with Jesus’ time in the wilderness, but also to avail ourselves of opportunities to be alone – with God. Those times of quiet prayer, when we let the ‘still, small voice’ speak to us, especially if we are not completely comfortable, and therefore more vulnerable than we might normally be, might lead us to learn truths about ourselves and our place in God’s world.
Temptation? It will always present itself. The Spanish might have it phrased best: we should pray that God will not let us fall in (or into) temptation.