Sunday, February 22, 2015

The first Sunday in Lent

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ, 

THE GOSPEL.  Saint Matthew  4. 1  

The gospel tells us that right after Jesus was baptized he was "led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.  He was led by the Spirit so that he could settle what the plan was going to be that he would live his life by.  He would see what the plan for his life was by being tempted to follow three counterfeit plans.  

 When we were baptized, God had a plan for us to live by as well.  The plan which Jesus was to follow was like the plan for us and the counterfeit plans that he was tempted by were temptations that face us as well.  So what were these counterfeit plans for life and what was the real plan? 

 The first counterfeit plan was when the Devil tempted Jesus to make stones into bread.  Jesus had gone without food for a long, long time.  He must have been very, very hungry.  He looked around at the round stones of the wilderness and they must have looked like round loaves of bread.  It must have seemed as if to eat were the only thing that mattered.  That was the counterfeit plan - to live a life in which in the end nothing else matters but the material things of life.  That is a plan that will occur to us when we are in a time of need.  The crunch comes and we are tempted to give up our thoughts of God and decide that nothing else really matters but getting some food, some money, a job...  That was the counterfeit plan and Jesus was tempted by it.

  The Bible says, "he was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin."  That means that this seemed  terribly like it might be the true plan to him as it might to us.  It really did seem as if the only thing that mattered in the end was to survive.  But Jesus didn't go for it.  Even when he was in great hunger, he didn't think the world revolved around his need.  He answers, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."  He held fast to the true plan.  He would live his life knowing that what he needed more than anything was God.  This need or that need, however strong they were, couldn't change the fact that his deepest need was for God.  He would live "by every word that comes from the mouth of God."  

 The second counterfeit plan was when the devil took him up to the top of the great temple and suggested that he jump off and prove that God was with him by performing a spectacular miracle.   The counterfeit plan was to live his life as if whatever came to his mind must be God's will for him.  Whatever way that he wanted things to be, God would surely back them up.  Perhaps he should jump from the Temple, perhaps that was what God wanted?  God might want that.  But did God really want that?  We can easily get an idea of what we are supposed to do and say to ourselves, that might be right way, I'd like it to be the right way - but is it really the right way?  

I had a friend in England who when he was in his early fifties got very restless.  He wanted to change this and he wanted to change that about his life and eventually he wanted to change his wife.  He wanted something more in his life and he was convinced that he knew what it was.  And although there was nothing really wrong with his marriage, he broke up with his wife and found someone else.  Did he find the happiness he was looking for?  I don't think so.  His restlessness was something within, and no change of scenery or change of partner was going to make it better.  He convinced himself that he was better off with his new partner.  No one wants to admit that they upset everyone that loved them because of an idea that turned out to be wrong.  To others he didn't look any happier.  The counterfeit plan was to follow an imaginary goal as if it was real - to think that if we flap our arms maybe we'll fly.  If we get lots and lots of money we'll be happy.  If we impress the right people it will make us successful.  This plan seems ridiculous until you see someone you know live their life according to it - or perhaps you try it yourself for a time.  And the true plan, the good plan, is that as you lead your life you don't go out on a limb, telling yourself "maybe this is what I ought to do."  You stick to what you know God wants you to do and not try to make God back your own schemes "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."  The true plan is to keep our feet planted on God's earth and not think we are the exception to every rule.  In both of these first two counterfeit plans there is a kind of self-centredness.  "Because I am hungry, bread is all that really matters."  Or, "because I imagine it, and I want it to be true, it must be true."  In both these ways of thinking, "I" and "me" are the centre of the world.

 And the third counterfeit plan is this self-centredness boiled down to its essence "I want the world to be under my control."  The devil tells Jesus that he will be able to rule the world if he will worship him.  We all have that tendency to want everything to bow down to us.  To have everything revolve around self.  When we look at children we can see them trying to control the people around them by dominating them, or perhaps by sulking and whining.  And we can see the same things in adults.  We all recognize it when people try to be controlling.  We don't recognize it as easily when we try to control.  The devil wants Jesus to bow down to him but Jesus refuses.  He says, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."   The true plan is to live our lives as worshippers of God.  And with that goes not wanting other people to bow down to us.  We don't want to control because we are worshippers of God and we allow him to rule.  

 So in these three temptations of Jesus, we see three counterfeit plans for life.  To live as if material things and needs are all-important and leave God out of the picture.  To live as if we can decide what God must want for him and follow that.  And to live as if the whole world revolved around our self, rejecting the claim of God and try to get others to see it that way.  These counterfeit plans can be very persuasive.  They must have been persuasive to Jesus himself or he wouldn't have been tempted to follow them.  

 The whole character of a temptation is that when we are being tempted, it seems right to us, or to part of us.  And our Lord was no different in this, because he was human, "In every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."  These plans can all seem very plausible under the right conditions.  But we have to learn to stick to the true plan.  

 Jesus followed the true plan for his life.  He lived knowing that whatever his material needs were, his deepest need was for the Word of God.  He lived knowing the difference between his own imagination, and God's true purpose for him.  He lived as a worshipper of God, not bowing down to anything but God, and not trying to make others bow down to him.  This is the life he chose as he came from his baptism and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  And this is the life we should choose, starting at our baptism.  His life is the model for our life - God's true plan for us.

 Father Ed Bakker 
 Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province 
 Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne 
 Bendigo, Australia