Thursday, 21 February 2013

The desert of temptation...

So here's the second of my Lent reflections:
‘The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendour of our God.’
Isaiah 35:1-2
When we begin to follow Jesus we inevitable end up in the desert. Jesus, of course, went straight from his baptism into the physical desert of the Judean wilderness. Many people have followed him into literal deserts too, the desert fathers of the 4th century being the most obvious example. More often, though, disciples find themselves in spiritual deserts and often against their will.
But why does the journey of dsicipleship involve a journey into the desert? Many of us were taught to believe that when we decided to follow Jesus all out troubles would be over. Yet, if we want to walk in his footsteps over during Lent and beyond, they lead deep into the wilderness. You see, the desert exposes and lays bare; it exposes our vulnerability and lays bare our weakness in the face of temptation. The desert reveals the harsh reality that we are sinful but, in so doing, it also reveals our absolute dependency on God’s grace.
There are dangers in the desert… we can quickly start to dehydrate and despair can overtake us. If we’re not careful, soon we’ll dry out and allow the evil one to overcome us. Equally, we can take mercy for granted and ignore the harsh lessons that the desert teaches us. If we cheapen grace then we risk being duped by the devil who wears the ‘deceitful face of hope,’ as T.S. Eliot put it. But, if in the desert we sense our own poverty and guilt, all the while keeping the vision of Christ before us, then the desert experience will strengthen us for the journey ahead. The desert represents an encounter between our misery and God’s mercy, our guilt and his forgiveness.
Self-sufficiency is all the rage at the moment – in food, energy, finance and so on. The temptations of Christ in the desert were all designed to lure him out of his relationship with God and into a self-sufficient life. The temptation to turn stones into bread was about exercising power on his own behalf rather than trusting himself to his Father’s care. The temptation to fling himself from the pinnacle of the temple was about making use of God rather than serving him. The tempatation to rule over all the nations of the earth was about setting himself up as an idol. Each temptation is an appeal to self-sufficiency: to rely on his own devices for securing power, pleasure and position.
Each of Christ’s responses, all from the Scriptures, show that he remians faithful to his relationship with his Father. You see, sin is not just breaking a moral code but – first and foremost – the fracturing of a relationship. All temptation is a call to selfishness. If we remain faithful and obedient, as Christ did, we acknowledge that are lives are fundamentally relational. Self-sufficiency should not be all the rage for the Christian. In the desert of temptation we live either obediently within relationship to the Trinity, or alientated in the hell of our own disobedience.
In the desert we can give up or we can embrace our emptiness, vulnerability and guilt with complete trust… and find God. And in finding God we find ourselves and the strength to journey on.

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