Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2,9-16; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
Tiger Woods was in the news this week. Again.
You know the story. Tiger Woods, famous golf professional, married with kids, is discovered to have been carrying on an affair with another woman. This was no one-night stand. It had been going on for 31 months. That’s more than 2 1⁄2 years.
The question that pops into my head when I hear such a story is, “What was he thinking? Did he really think he wouldn’t be caught?”
But another question pops into my head: If any of us were Tiger Woods, would we have done any better?
How can any of us know what it’s like to be a superstar? Who among us has that kind of talent, that kind of success? Who among us has made that kind of money? Who among us in Tiger Woods’ situation would have done any better?
Sports figures, politicians & celebrities, with their power & money, face many temptations. Not all of them give in to those temptations, but we shouldn’t be surprised when they do.
Today’s reading from Luke is the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. The temptations he faced sound strange to us. These don’t seem anything like the kind of temptations we face. And yet, they do sound like the kind of temptations a superstar would face. Jesus is, after all, the Son of God, & in today’s reading the devil himself says so. Because he’s the Son of God, isn’t he entitled to do whatever he wants? The devil even quotes the Bible to make his point!
When we ask, “What was Tiger Woods thinking?”—maybe that’s the answer. Maybe he was thinking, “I’m Tiger Woods. I’m special. I can do what I want. I deserve it.”
The temptations of Jesus may seem outlandish to us. But are they really so different from the temptations that superstars in our own day face every day? In fact, if we spend some time reflecting on our own lives, we might find that they’re the very same temptations each of us faces every day.
The temptation is this: I’m entitled to it. I deserve it—whatever “it” is. The worst part is, the arguments are often easy to justify! In Jesus’ case, being who he was, what harm could there be in giving in to those temptations?
The hardest kind of temptation may be the kind that doesn’t feel like a temptation at all. If we believe we’re entitled to certain things then our hearts don’t put up much of a struggle. If the best we can do is say, “It just feels right,” or, “It makes sense,” or, “Of course that’s what everybody does,” then the spiritual fight is over before it even begins.
The short story of Jesus’ struggle with temptation teaches us a lesson, simple to understand but difficult to practice: The question is not, “What do I want?” or “What do I think?” or even, “How sincere am I?” The question is, “What does God have to say on the matter?”
We live in a nation that practically worships the rights of individuals. In such a place it becomes very difficult to listen for the voice of God.
No doubt you heard the story this past week about the pilot who crashed his plane into an IRS building in Texas. Joseph Stack had become enraged because he felt he was being treated unfairly by the IRS. He was tempted to give in to the idea that he was a victim. He gave in to that temptation.
When we pay more attention to our own needs & wants than the will of God, no matter how justified we feel, the final result for both ourselves & others may be destruction. The people who knew Joseph Stack mostly had no idea that he was in such inner turmoil. They were baffled that he might be capable of such a thing.
And yet, there’s a detail in Jesus’ temptation story that explains Joseph Stack’s behavior. When Jesus faced his great temptations he was in the wilderness. He was alone. When we’re isolated, left alone with our own ideas, we can justify anything. Or, if we’re surrounded only by people who think as we do, it’s much the same thing, like being alone in the wilderness.
The importance of church as community is central. We gather to break our isolation. We come to worship to have our ideas & our choices challenged by God. Cut off from community, we lose sight of who God created us to be.
My wife has a co-worker whose sister took her own life late last year. It wasn’t sudden; she’d planned it & even talked openly about her plans. Despite the attempts of her loved ones over many months to change her mind, she refused.
I need to say here that Christians have compassion for those whose lives are so painful & without hope that they choose to end their lives. We also need to be clear that suicide is a very selfish act because of the life-long devastation it causes others.
If we fix our attention only on celebrities & people who make headlines, then we learn nothing. Or, if the stories of God’s people in the Bible don’t lead us to connect the dots with our own lives, then not much in our own lives is likely to change. But God calls us to daily repentance & transformation.
The stories of God’s people in the Bible, & news stories in our own time, invite us into those stories. Rather than serving as entertainment or just more depressing news, we can see in these stories an opportunity to ask ourselves: Where have I faced a similar temptation? How successful was I in resisting the temptation? When have I given in, & what was the result? What have I learned from those experiences? How have I, by the grace of God, been changed? And, what temptations do I now face?
The community of faith is the place we return, week after week, to hear the stories of God’s people, their joys & sorrows, their successes & failures. Each week we return to a familiar rhythm, & habits that can keep our focus less on ourselves & more on God. We come before God, acknowledging those times we have allowed our own will to rule, confessing our sins. We pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…,” “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”
In these rituals we develop a pattern for a lifestyle that strives with every decision to set aside our sense of entitlement, or, the conviction that we are victims. We return to the life of Jesus & his journey to the cross, remembering that his journey is our journey.
In worship, we acknowledge our common humanity. We remember that we are not really so different from the people who make headlines; we’re not even so different from Jesus himself. We do so, both challenged & encouraged by the words from Scripture that we’ll hear again in a couple of weeks, where St. Paul writes: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to all people.”
In other words, any temptations that we have experienced have been experienced countless millions of times before.
I find it interesting that, even though he’s not a Christian, Tiger Woods chose the season of Lent to make his public confession. May we, the baptized people of God, likewise choose this season to reflect on our own lives. May the love of God in Christ Jesus give us courage & confidence that our confession has power to lead us & those around us to healing & transformation.