Sunday, 05 March 2017 17:22

Temptation at Our Feet

Written by 
Monastery of the Temptations, Jericho Monastery of the Temptations, Jericho

This is an occasional blog where I hope to write about the things that matter most at the moment. In this era of uncertainty, American Christians who are appalled, shocked, and terrified of the current social and political conditions of this country must speak.  If we have faith, we must use it.

Last Sunday's gospel text in Matthew 4:1-11 of the Temptations of Jesus traditionally begins the season of Lent. This year that selection seems even more fitting for Christians who recognize that as a nation we, too, are in a wilderness--a wilderness of fear and hate, greed and despair, and a widening divide between factions that no human can seem to surmount. For those of us who might feel that a national Lent began over six weeks ago and what lies ahead is a long, tortuous road to the passion and death of our democratic republic as we believed it is and would always be, despite its many flaws and tragedies, Christ’s temptations are an emphatic reminder of our own and the test to which God calls us in these times.

Matthew tells us that the Spirit brought Jesus into the desert wilderness to be tempted before he began his ministry. Desperately hungry after forty days in the desert, Jesus is taunted by Satan who suggests that Jesus could turn stones into loaves of bread if he wanted to. Jesus refuses to use his powers to satisfy his stomach and quotes the Torah law that one must live not by bread but by the word of God. We, however, have not resisted the temptation of our power to turn stones into bread by selling our public lands and allowing contamination and desecration of our air, water, and soil to satisfy the insatiable hunger of corporations and, in spite of our protests, of us consumers.

Next, Jesus is brought by the devil to Jerusalem and placed on the highest point of the temple, no less, and the devil challenges Jesus to prove his preciousness to God by throwing himself off the pinnacle.  Jesus again answers with a sacred law: "'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Mt. 4:7). As a nation, we are testing the very foundations of our country as our laws, our oaths--even loyalty to our own country--are threatened by lies and deceit. There will be nothing to catch us when we fall except a mendacious security that will only betray us in the end.

Finally, the devil brings Jesus to a high mountain where they view all the kingdoms of the world, and the devil tries to entice him with a promise of power over it all if Jesus would only fall down and worship him. Jesus has had enough and will have none of it. He turns on the devil, "'Away with you, Satan! for it is written 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'" (Mt. 4:10).  Exhausted but ultimately meeting his test and free of all temptations, Jesus is surrounded by angels who minister to him. Likewise, our citizens are being led by an earthly tempter to the top of a mountain with the promise of making this country great again if we only fall at his feet, believing and trusting only in him. Such promises of greatness don't shine like the light on a hill but spread an ominous darkness and sickening miasma over the land. No angels will minister to those who obey.

For those of us Christians horrified by the turn our country has taken, our test comes in our choice of whether to speak out and act, even when it disrupts our complacency or desire for the safety of seclusion. This is a battle for our minds and souls, and we must stand up for the highest good and what we know in our hearts is true. 

Yet for all the crisis created, this moment teaches us two things: First, like Jesus, we must come to terms with our demons before we can find authentic strength and wholeness. As it is true for us individually, so as it is for our country. It is long overdue for the government to confess the sins it has committed against fellow Americans throughout history. Abraham Lincoln was convinced that the terrible bloodshed of the Civil War was punishment for the sin of slavery. More than 150 years later, we still commit sins and blood is being shed. Since the founding of this nation, whites, mostly Christian, have brought incalculable pain and death to countless numbers, especially to Native Americans and African Americans. Sins against our sisters and brothers need to be humbly confessed and atoned for before we will ever find peace within ourselves and true unity as a nation. Last, the present events should teach all Christians that we must put our trust not in mortal leaders but in the One to whom we belong who is Lord of all and who will carry us through.