January 20, 2019

Matthew 4:1-17, Psalm 91

Commercialized Christianity holds and promotes an idealized view of how our lives will be if we just have faith. If you pray hard enough, or just right, all your troubles will simply go away and all your prayers will be answered. If you have faith your life will be easy without stumbling blocks and struggles. If you turn everything over to God, then everything will be taken care of. If you believe and pray just right you will have all the money and stuff that you ever wanted. 

Granted there are a number of different theologies and stereotypes thrown into this mass of popularized Christian themes. But there is a reoccurring theme in all of them, which in practice causes more harm than good. If you have the right amount of faith and practice it just right, then God will take over so you don’t have to do anything. If you walk in faith just right then you won’t have to struggle in any way. If you do things just right your salvation will make everything perfect all the time. 

This whole idea misses the point of the countless lives of faith that are listed in the Bible, who even though they had faith they struggled. None of these individual’s lives in the Bible turned out to be perfect. No one within our scriptures lived their lives without struggles, even as there are countless texts that tell of how God will watch over you and protect you. 

“Psalm 91”

The scriptures are filled with these encouraging texts and words of promise for those who are seeing the assurance that God is with them. Scriptures of if one relies on God, then they will be protected. But there is still that element of struggle. An element that even the faithful will face problems and temptation, but the Lord our God will still be there. 

When I was running cross country in High School I would often recite a portion of the text from “Isaiah 40:28-31”. I didn’t read it so I could run faster or be without fatigue. Instead I recited it to find encouragement. To remember that I was not alone. To find a different source of energy that helped me continue on in those places where I just wanted to stop and rest. 

Today’s gospel text reminds us of Jesus’ own temptation before his ministry kicks off. As Jesus has spent a prolonged period of time out in the wilderness, fasting both day and night, the tempter comes to him. While his body is at its weakest, the devil comes to tempt him and lead him astray. We have the temptation to satisfy the bodily needs of bread. Then The temptation to test God’s word. Finally the temptation of absolute power. 

The first two temptations utilize if-then statements. If you are indeed the son of God then.,, Then you can turn this stone into bread. Then you can simply throw yourself down from this high place and the angels will protect you. In all three of these temptations Jesus responds with scripture. The first recognizing that the bodily needs are not all that we need, and the second addresses the misuse of scripture on the devil’s part. Matthew utilizes Deuteronomy for reference regarding the testing whether or not the angels will protect him. While this is true, Jesus responds in such a way that recognizes how scriptures should be used. We can find justification to do many things for our own benefit, but that is not the way of Christ. 

The final temptation is that of power, that the devil presumes to have authority. He presumes to be able to determine who has power over all the kingdoms of the earth and offered it to Jesus for his loyalty and devotion. Jesus responds with a the commandment to, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The end of Matthew concludes with Jesus commissioning the disciples to go therefore and make disciples of all nations The power over the earth lays with Christ not the devil.  

In this text we recognize that even Jesus had to deal with temptations. Even Jesus had to deal with bodily hunger and struggles. And because of his humanity, he struggled with the people. He struggled amongst the people. He was not separated from the ills of this world rather he was neck deep in the struggles of this earth, with the people. We can hope that at our best we can be as strong as Jesus at his weakest. We can hope to find strength to do what is right, as we follow the example of Jesus Christ. 

We are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ as we seek to shrug off the temptations of this world with the help of the divine. We are called to do this in relationship, not just with the divine, but with those around us. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t one of individualism, get your self fixed and go along the way. Instead it was a ministry of community, a ministry of being with the people who are struggling, so that we can provide a helping hand.

Even as we find ourselves journeying on the way with the divine and one another. Let us not be diluted in thinking that all our struggles will simply disappear if we have enough faith. Let us instead recognize that the divine strengthens us to keep going. Encourages us when we feel beaten down. And gives us a shoulder to lean on when we feel we can’t go on any more. And as we find strength, we are to share it and use that encouragement to bring others up out of the muck as well.