Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
“Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God,
And him only shalt thou serve”
The story of The Temptations of Christ is always read on The First Sunday in Lent. It is a story of great significance in our pilgrimage of Faith.
What are the temptations of Christ? They are our temptations brought to a certain kind of clarity in Jesus Christ. We are apt to have a negative view of temptation. But in truth, there is something altogether positive about the fact of temptations. They are a necessary feature of our humanity. Whether or not we are tempted is not at issue, but how we understand and respond to the temptations in our souls is altogether crucial. The story of the temptations of Christ is about two things: the naming of the three forms of temptation; and the threefold overcoming of temptation. The critical lesson for us is that temptation is properly named and only overcome by Christ and by Christ in us.
The great positive feature of temptation is that it serves to demonstrate what is good and true. The temptations of Christ are our temptations brought to a kind of intensity of expression. We shall learn something about ourselves in all our varied array and disarray through the temptations of Christ. They all speak to the question of our identity as God’s children, our identity as the spiritual creatures who are made in God’s image.
In the Gospels’ sequence of events, the temptations of Christ all follow upon the baptism of Christ. The baptism of Christ is an epiphany - a making known of his essential divine identity: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. What immediately follows is that Christ is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. The temptations, we might say, belong precisely to the pageant of the passion.
The wilderness is the place of spiritual combat. It is also the place of spiritual refreshment and renewal. There is a struggle, a conflict. The conflict is within. It is the conflict of wills within us. We are divided against ourselves in every temptation. It is a question about our fundamental identity. What really defines us?
In our Christian identity we are defined by our baptism. Our baptisms all involve renunciations and affirmations. There is our saying no, resoundingly, to the things which stand between us and God. There is our saying yes, resoundingly, to the things which God wants for us in our identity with him. The saying no means our renunciation of “the world, the flesh and the devil”.
The temptations of Christ would remind us that this is the constant struggle of our lives, even as our baptisms, as belonging to the saving work of Christ in overcoming all that stands between us and God, would remind us that the victory is solely in him. It can only be in us through him. It is a matter of his victory in us. Living that out is the constant struggle of our lives.
The temptations of Christ are, surely, the temptations of the flesh. Will we be defined by our sensual appetites alone? The temptations of Christ are, surely, the temptations of the world. Will we be defined by the desire for vain glory and spectacle and show? The temptations of Christ are, surely, the temptations of the devil. Will we be defined by the very principle in person who denies and stands in opposition to God? In short, the temptations of Christ are all about our identity in faith. They are all about the denial or the acceptance of God.
These are questions about our fundamental allegiances, questions about who we are and what we are called to be. The temptations are about the struggle within us, we might say, against appetite, entertainment and the desire for total control.
There is and there must be the constant struggle to prove the goodness and the truth of God against the immediacy of our sensual appetites - as if we were merely a collection of orifices, in other words, merely consumers. There is and there must be the constant struggle against the imagination of our hearts for vain glory, entertainment and show - as if everything was simply there for our amusement. There is and there must be the constant struggle against the tyranny of our desire to be God - as if we were not creatures who find ourselves in a world which we did not make and do not rule.
What the temptations of Christ call into question - and it is a necessary question - is our identity with God in Christ. They call into question the truth of our humanity. Look at the temptations of Christ and see in them what belongs to your baptismal profession both in the renunciations and in the affirmations. Look at the temptations of Christ and see in them the question about your primary allegiances and about setting your love in order.
That “man shall not live by bread alone” does not mean that bread, signifying the things which belong to our natural, physical and sensual sustenance and life, doesn’t have its place. It does but only as from the hand of the God. There is no bread of life apart from the God of life. That “thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”, does not mean that God cannot and does not do wondrous and marvellous things for us in our lives, but it does mean that God is not the plaything of our whims and fantasies. He is not there for our entertainment and amusement.
That “thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve” does not mean that we don’t have other duties and obligations, responsibilities and powers with respect to the world and to one another. It does mean that all these things come under and are found within this primary and absolute requirement: God first without whom there is, after all, nothing else. Everything has to be brought into this primary relationship. Everything has to be brought into the primacy of worship and service.
The answers of Christ are not pat formulas easily and conveniently trotted out. By no means. They are borne out of the struggle. They comprise within themselves an entire commentary on the age-old, biblical struggle between sin and grace. They are the clarifying words of Christ which should be emblazoned in our souls and imprinted on our consciences. They belong to our daily struggle in faith to make visible the truth and the glory of Christ.
They come down to the matter of our baptismal profession “which is, to follow our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that as he died and rose again for us, so should we, who are baptized, die from sin and rise again unto righteousness, continually mortifying all evil desires and daily increasing in all virtue and godliness of living” (BCP, p. 530). In a way, the lessons of this day all come down to this primary affirmation:
“Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God
And him only shalt thou serve”.
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne