And, of course, Satan fails. Jesus does not succumb. Jesus remains faithful to God.
So what does this story teach us?
Last Wednesday, we entered the season of Lent. In the Christian year, this is our forty days in the wilderness, our time to face our own temptations, to acknowledge our own infirmities, to seek God’s help in rising above our own worst impulses so that we can be better disciples of our Lord.
But for most of us, our temptations will be a little different than Jesus’. When I am hungry, I don’t think bread. I am not really interested in authority over all the nations of the world. And I could never see the appeal of throwing myself off a building. Those are not my temptations.
But we all face temptations. And Lent is an opportunity for us to be honest with ourselves about the temptations we face. This matters because, when we succumb to temptation, we sin. And sin, unchecked, can ruin our lives and our relationships, including our relationship with God.
We each have some temptations that are personal to us. What tempts me may not be a problem for you. What tempts you may not be a problem for me.
As I have told many of you, I was playing a lot of Sudoku, so I gave up Sudoku for Lent. For the next several weeks, Sudoku is going to be a temptation for me. My guess is, Sudoku is not a big problem for most of you. Unfortunately, Sudoku is not my own worst temptation either.
But most of us are pretty well aware of the temptations that beset us as individuals. We mostly know our vulnerabilities and the danger that our vulnerabilities present. More tricky are the temptations we share as a culture, the temptations that are above and beyond our own particular temptations.
At least two of these broader cultural temptations were on prominent display last week.
Last Sunday, like 100 million other people, my family and I watched the Super Bowl. Benjamin came home from College, and the four of us gathered in front of the television with pizza, soda, chips, dip, and ice cream.
As always, the commercials were clever and entertaining. But the commercials were also a little troubling if you stop to think about them. Their underlying message was that I could finally be happy, I could finally be the person I have always wanted to be, if only I would buy the right new car or drink the right brand of beer or soda, or use the right new technology. Joy, fulfillment, meaning, love come from products that are available for a price.
This is one of the great American temptations, and none of us can fully escape it. We are bombarded with messages telling us that life is all about consumption, that life is a big game, and the one who dies with the most toys wins.
Another temptation on display last week comes courtesy of our political system. We are now into the primary season. And all too often, candidates appeal to our worst instincts. They play on our fears. They make unrealistic promises that we can have something for nothing. They imply that their opponents are stupid, or corrupt, or both.
Every two years, the party I mostly support asks me for money. And every two years, their solicitations say essentially the same thing. They say, this is the most important election of my lifetime. They say, the opposing party is poised to undermine everything I value about our country. They say, brave candidates from our party stand in the breach, prepared to defend truth and justice and the American way.
And none of it is really true. It is not possible that every election can be the most important. No one from any party hates democracy or freedom or prosperity. Politicians who happen to disagree with me are not evil. Politicians who happen to agree with me are not saints.
Politics is important, and the differences between candidates are real. But political discourse in our country often degenerates into simplistic answers for complex problems. Worse yet, it invites us to feel superior to many of our fellow-citizens by demonizing the opposition. That is another temptation.
In his day, Jesus resisted temptation. We need to resist the temptations of our day.
And the best way to resist our temptations, the best way to strengthen our personal vulnerabilities and to minimize the impact of negative cultural messages, is spending time with God in prayer. Prayer is like an inoculation against the virus of temptation.
I encourage you to make a commitment to spend at least a few minutes in prayer every day this Lent. There are lots of ways to do it. There are resources on our Outreach Table which can help. The point is to spend a little time with God each day in whatever way works best for you. If you do that, you will strengthen your immune system against the many temptations that confront us all.
So here is an updated version of our gospel story.
During Lent, Jesus was led by the Spirit to spend time in daily prayer.
One evening towards the end of Lent, Jesus turned on the television. Satan appeared on the screen. And Satan said, “Jesus, why don’t you do a Sudoku?” [You should insert your own temptation here!] Satan said, “Have a little fun. It is no big deal.”
But fortified by several weeks of regular prayer, Jesus said, “I know that Sudoku is no big deal for a lot of people. But I was spending too much time and energy on it. And Scripture teaches us to love God with all our hearts and all our minds and all our souls and all our strength. So I made a commitment to devote more time to the people I love and to God. That is why I am not going to do a Sudoku right now.”
Satan tried again. Satan said, “Jesus, you are not as popular as you would like to be, particularly with the ladies. You are not having as much fun as you could. Worship me and I will give you enough money to buy whatever it takes to have a perfect life.”
But Jesus had been spending time with God each day. So Jesus answered, “I don’t need your products to know true joy and love. I am a beloved child of God. God gives me all the love and the joy I need.”
Satan tried one more time. “Jesus,” he said, “the world can seem like a scary and complicated place. But I can clarify things for you. Those people are evil. You should hate them. Then you will not have to think for yourself and you can feel good about being on the right side.”
But after weeks in prayer, Jesus had honed his ability to discern God’s will. So Jesus answered, “The world is big and scary. But we are all in this together. Our goal is the common good. And our God is an awesome God. God enables us to live lives of faith and hope and love.”
When the devil had finished every test, he departed. And Jesus knelt in prayer.
May we do the same.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
Passage: Luke 4:1-13