Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alone in the Desert with the Devil

"The Temptation of Christ" by Ary Scheffer

For forty days and forty nights, Jesus fasted in the desert. At the end of that time, the tempter came. And Jesus, no doubt, was feeling his humanity. He's tired and hungry and feeling alone in the desert with the devil putting him to the test:

Make these stones bread!

Throw yourself from this pinnacle of the Temple!

Rule over all the kingdoms of the world!

"You can have it all!" says the tempter. "Just fall down and worship me!"

That really is the crux of where the devil is headed in this scene with Jesus. The temptations are one thing, but ultimately it's the "fall down and worship me!" that is the ultimate goal.

These are the same temptations that we face each day. There is the desire to eat our fill (and then some). The craving to feel immortal. And then the crown jewel of them all: to be ruler of everything and totally in control. It's greed and pride and gluttony all rolled into a fine package. And it's all about who and what do we place first in our lives. And what God will we serve.

One of the most popular of the "other Gods" is money. We need money in order to buy stuff. And even if we have plenty of stuff, sometimes there is the temptation to buy more stuff. Because this extra stuff will make us feel younger, look thinner, and is just plain better than that other stuff we already have. The God of Money offers security, and not having money can make us anxious or depressed.

This is where we have the collapse of the kingdom. Because of our worship of money, we fail to see how money traps us into behaving in ways that are far from being reflective of the God that promises eternal life. In fact, money leads to death. When we withhold tax dollars from funding services such as schools, for example, we are choking off our future. Rather than building up our communities, we are ripping them apart. Our temptation to hang onto "our" money will leave us as a society alone in the desert.

If we are in a position of power in our jobs, how we handle that responsibility may be another moment that we find ourselves alone with the devil in the desert. Back when I worked in radio, and I was in the thankless job of interim news director, my superiors asked during my interview for the permanent position about one of the people in the newsroom. She had secured a grant to do some important environmental reporting involving the tri-state water wars. My managers suggested to me that perhaps I should take that grant away from her. They were ostensibly worried about whether she was up for the task (she had issues with depression). But what I saw in their request had nothing to do with caring for her mental health. This employee was a bit of tinderbox who already suspected I was out to do her in and one of the managers was encouraging that paranoia in her. I knew this: she already had the grant and was the most knowledgeable person in our department on the issues involving the water wars, and I knew that this grant was a big win for her. To take it away might have caused her to snap.

"No," I said, "I think she can handle this assignment, and we've been working on a schedule to allow her time to do the reporting." And the tempter in the form of those managers glared at me, but could do nothing. Well, almost nothing. They passed me over for the promotion. But the reporter completed the radio special on the tri-state water wars.

Jesus rebuffs the temptations laid before him at the time when he was most likely to stumble. He finds his strength in the surety of God, and is now even more prepared to embark upon a mission where he is the embodiment of this extraordinary and unconditional love. We, like Jesus, are going to find ourselves alone in our most desperate moments facing the temptation to give in to our weaknesses. That's the rub in this human business. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to not lose sight of God.


Anonymous said...

You did the right thing and you are now doing what you really like doing so it was and is a win, win situation.


Phoebe said...

The last line made a very good sermon ending!