The power of the lure of love. . .
A young mother had been working hard to teach her five-year-old daughter how to say the Lord’s Prayer. One night she overheard the young girl reciting the prayer solo in her room just before bedtime. The little girl carefully enunciated each word and was coming in for a solid landing until she got to the last line where she prayed, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some E-mail. Amen.
Well, as far as I know God has never delivered us from evil by sending us E-mail, but God did send us the Christ.
The backdrop to today’s Gospel is the Baptism of Jesus whereby he is anointed the Christ. Jesus was answering the call of God to go among the people, and so he goes down to the Jordan where John is baptizing throngs of people.
He stood there looking at all those poor people whom many would have considered to be morally suspect. He stood there looking at that horde of hungry humans, and he decided to become one of them.
I had the privilege of taking part in an ecumenical baptism with four bishops presiding, one Roman Catholic, one Episcopal, one Lutheran and one Armenian Orthodox. The Orthodox bishop explained that in his tradition they never baptize two people in the same water because they would literally become brother and sister. I think Jesus decided to become a sibling to all of humanity on the day of his baptism.
It is imperative to understand that this is the backdrop that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. The reason the Baptism of Jesus is such an important prelude to his Lenten walk in the desert, is because each of the temptations that he meets there are designed to get him to deny the humanity that he has just consciously chosen.
Come on Jesus, you can turn these stones into bread; there’s no reason for you to be this hungry. Hunger is a human yearning. You have the authority to break your fast.
Come on Jesus, you can have all the power in the world; you can rule over all these earthly kingdoms.
Come on Jesus, throw yourself off this Temple pinnacle. If anyone else did it they would surely die, but not you, for angels from heaven will come and lift you up before you even stub your toe on a rock.
But each time the tempter tempts, Jesus chooses humanity. As it turns out, the only bread Jesus is interested in are the loaves that might feed his newly found brothers and sisters, and the bread of life that might satisfy their spiritual hunger as well.
The only power that Jesus is interested in is the power of the lure of love, and to this end he begins his ministry with an invitation, not a command: Follow Me.
The greatest incidence of his choosing to be human was when he chose not to invoke the rescue of angels, but to die as one of us, and on the hard wood of the cross no less.
Jesus made those choices in the frightening and foreboding Judean wilderness, and Jesus invites us to walk there with him this Lent, not so we can learn how to escape the human condition, but to learn how we can be more fully human and therefore more humane.
I truly believe that more than anything else, most of us are searching to be more fully human. We want to choose humanness as the One who was supremely human chose it.
As much as we might dread facing it, we need to take this time out of our liturgical year to walk in the naked desert with Jesus, stripped of all the trappings that we have so lovingly and so possessively preserved for ourselves.
During the time around Valentine’s Day we were bombarded by television commercials that were designed to straighten us out on the meaning of love and just what it takes to demonstrate our love. Who can forget the Kay’s Jewelry commercial showing an adoring man giving the woman he loved a diamond pendant? Her eyes lit up like the stars of night, and she hugged and kissed him, just as the angelic choir sang,
Every kiss begins with Kay.
Well I’m sorry, but every kiss does NOT begin with Kay. God kissed humanity in the cold of the night on the first Christmas. The miracle of that love could only be found in the humanity of a family we call Holy, not because they were studded with jewels from heaven, but because they were willing to surrender everything to love. They were willing to choose humanity over everything else; they were willing to become all that they could become.
The rejected, the hurting, the lonely, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the sinners, the oppressed, the outcasts, the deprived and the depraved . . . these were the jewels that Jesus craved; these were the pearls of great price.
I submit to you that the temptations that well up in us with the greatest force are of the same order as those that Jesus faced in the Lenten wilderness. They are the temptations to become less human. . . to become someone other than who we were meant to be.
I’m not sure what final judgment is going to be like, but I’m pretty sure that when I get there, God isn’t going to ask me why I wasn’t more like Mother Theresa. I’m pretty sure he’s going to ask me why I wasn’t more like the Bill Adams I was meant to become.
Perhaps material goods and worldly power are so irresistible to us because they offer such an easy substitute for the hard task of agape – of the love that serves others without condition.
That is the love that makes us truly human. That is the only love that will finally satisfy us. Jesus embodied that love, and so we rightly proclaim Jesus to be the Christ. We, in the church, claim divinity for Jesus precisely because he resisted all temptation to become something other than who he was meant to be.
Therefore, let us walk with him in the desert. Let us use this time of Lent to discover who we were meant to be. Let us spend these forty days rediscovering just what it means to be truly human.
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