Lead me not into temptation…I can find it myself!
What are you most tempted by right now? We’re all tempted by different things, I guess….some love other people a bit too much…did you hear the one about…
“Why did the cannibal get sick after eating the missionary? You just can't keep a good man down.”
Our liturgy tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, but did not sin.
What does that mean, he did not sin? As a child was he not self-centered as all children are? Did he never sneak out at night with his friends? He never stole an extra snack from the pita jar, or a few more matzah balls at Passover time? We don’t even LIKE people like that…we call them goodie-two-shoes. Sin is not really about the little temptations and little foibles that make us human.
When Jesus was around 30 years old, he got serious about his mission in life. He learned from John the Baptist. But after Jesus’ baptism, there was no luncheon served to celebrate. He was sent – by God’s Holy Spirit – directly into the wilderness to be tested – tempted by Satan. Sounds like God’s version of basic training before a ministry assignment. Jesus was tempted in three ways…
Stones into bread. Hunger is powerful! “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Jumping off the pinnacle. This would have been sheer hubris, daring the angels to let him fall
“You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Tempting others, whether it’s God or another person, can be a major sin
Ruling the world, if only Jesus would worship Satan
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
We’ve all had our own versions of these temptations, I imagine…who wouldn’t steal food to keep from starving? Who hasn’t ever wanted to show off in front of other people? I’ve certainly dreamed of a world where we were in charge, thinking I could do a much better job of running things.
But all of Jesus’ temptations came down to one thing – the temptation to usurp God’s role, God’s power…to play God ourselves…not to let God be God.
Now, our own temptations may be a bit more pedestrian. Not every temptation rises to the level of usurping God’s place and power. There are little temptations vs. big temptations – a range of temptations with a range of consequences. The whole advertising industry is designed to heighten our temptations, and get us to succumb to them, both small and large.
For instance, there are temptations: to cheat and steal. I’m told that cheating in school is quite common these days, which is worrisome. As for stealing, while shoplifting a small item is definitely a problem, it hardly compares with Bernie Madoff stealing people’s life savings.
Psych experts actually advise us to give in to some of our little temptations, like a latte in the morning, or a special dessert, in order to save our willpower for the really important things…. Maybe this is smart; I don’t know. That advice is not in the Bible, I’m afraid.
So what is really important to us as Christians?
We believe in that we, and all our neighbors, are created in God’s image. That means we need to tend and respect and care for both ourselves and others around us. The most important temptations – the biggies – that we need to resist are those that denigrate or destroy our selves or other people.
Our bodies can be damaged by our appetites for food, and for alcoholic drinks. I certainly enjoy my wine with dinner and a bit of scotch (sorry, that’s in my blood!) I watch myself to see that alcohol doesn’t become a problem in my daily living. I have another vice, though. My own body suffers from my lack of appetite…for exercise!
We also need to resist temptations that hurt other people, deprive other people, or ruin relationships. Cheating and lying to other people hurts them…and hurts ourselves by disrespecting and damaging our own integrity. Drinking too much can hurt family and friends, and strangers too if we drive drunk. Malicious gossip damages communities terribly – including church congregations. The tongue can be a powerful and destructive weapon.
A number of us were just on an overnight spiritual retreat – an experience I can recommend to all of you. Good food, good conversation, and a spirit of rest and peace in a beautiful place! We talked this year about living our lives as self-referenced, vs. living our lives as Christ-referenced. When we are self-referenced, we are making decisions, and giving in to temptations, based on our own wants, desires, and satisfactions. We’re not thinking about Christ, or about other people.
When we live as Christ-referenced, we are putting Christ at the center of our lives, instead of ourselves. That changes a lot of our choices, decisions, and priorities. It’s a big challenge! But worth thinking about…the next time you are faced with something very tempting. What would Jesus want? Why would I do this? What is motivating me? A little thought, and maybe a bit of prayer, might change the course of your actions. Maybe that cannibal might think twice about enjoying that nice, tender missionary. He might even become a vegetarian, who knows?