No other gods
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he instructed us to pray the heavenly Father not lead us into temptation. It’s probably the most puzzling petition in Jesus’ model prayer, begging the questions, Why would need to ask that? Would God lead us into temptation.
In the story we just heard from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4:1-13), we find Jesus after he has been led into temptation. Following his baptism, the Holy Spirit that has filled Jesus now drives him out into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. Yet, these temptations are not what we would ordinarily think of as temptations.
We have a pretty narrow idea of temptation. Usually, the allure to indulge in things we know to be not good for us or for the people around us. We may even run down through the Ten Commandments and discover we are tempted to disrespect parents and those in authority; to lie, cheat or steal; to covet; to hate and threaten and nurse grudges; to plot revenge; and so on. Everyday and in many ways, we’re tempted to think, speak and act in ways that hurt us and the people around us.
But as we watch Jesus persevere under three temptations, we see that it’s not so much that surface temptation that’s the trouble, but what lurks just beneath the surface. In fact, serious temptation has a way of masquerading as the inspiration to do something good, not only for ourselves but for the people around us.
Long before time, when God first breathed life into the dust of the earth and created human beings, God placed the human beings into the creation to tend and care for it, and God gave human beings every tree and plant for food. At the center of this creation, God planted two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told the human beings not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
One day, the woman was walking and working and delighting in all God created when she found herself beside the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Suddenly, a crafty serpent slid down beside her. The serpent reminded her of God’s command, but then pointed out that the power and benefits the tree’s fruit would bestow on her. Her eyes would be open to discern what is good and what is evil. She would be wise and independent and able to reason – all good things. She understands what she and her husband could become and begins to wonder why God would keep such wisdom from them. So, they eat. Their eyes are opened as promised, and they see the world as God sees it. They are empowered.
Yet, that power comes at a cost. They discover their weakness and frailty too. They see they are naked and vulnerable in the middle of what now appears a hostile world. They’re naked and afraid. They discover they are afraid of the Creator, and they hide from God when God comes near to walk with them, to talk with them, to enjoy their company. They’ve gained wisdom. They lost their trust and love for God.
That’s the true nature of temptation. There’s always a rocky reef lurking just beneath the surface of what seems a calm and attractive sea that tears a hole in our relationship with God – a relationship build on love and trust.
Jesus struggles with the devil in the wilderness, on the mountain and at the temple not over bread, might and power, but over what God Jesus will love and trust above all else. Each temptation has a good side – food for a hungry Jesus; authority over all the world; a visible proof of God’s love and protection. But it will cost Jesus his faith and his love for the Father. In the end, Jesus trades everything this life has to offer to remain faithful to his God and heavenly Father. He will live with no other gods, and he will suffer for it and die because of it. With his very last breath, he will commend his life and spirit into God’s hands in hope of resurrection and a place in God’s new creation. God raises Jesus from the dead. We call him the first fruit of God’s new creation, but that fruit grew from the seeds of relationship of unwavering love and trust in God.
It is a taste of that fruit of God’s new world, Jesus gives us to eat here: His body and blood for us, for our forgiveness, for our salvation. But like the forbidden fruit long ago, the fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection cost us something: The old life we lived, serving all the other gods at work in this world, that continue to lure us away from God: money, power, violence and hatred, death and despair. We died to those Gods with Christ in baptism; we are preserved in this life among God’s faithful people – hearing the word of forgiveness, eating and drinking God’s grace.
This most troubling of all petitions comes with a promise – our life may be a life lived under the stress of constant temptation, constant trials, but God delivers us from evil, from everything that seeks to lure us away from God’s steadfast love. In the end, there are no other gods, but this God who raised Jesus from the dead and who promises you eternal life in Jesus name. Amen.
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