Feb 26th, 2023: Do we trust or distrust God?
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God”.
In our Gospel reading this morning from Matthew we heard the familiar story of the temptation in the wilderness. Jesus has just been baptized and claimed as the beloved son of God and now faces an ordeal.
We are told that Jesus was in the wilderness. In the Bible the wilderness is always a place of struggle. It is not a peaceful retreat surrounded by nature. We are told that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. In the Bible the number forty is always significant. Think of Moses or Noah or the Israelites wandering for forty years.
Matthew wants to introduce us to Jesus. His story of temptation is simply about Jesus. Who he is and what sort of character he shows. The temptation story begins a long process of revealing the person of Jesus. Matthew preaches on the humility of Jesus.
The Spirit led Jesus.
Only Matthew uses the words “to be tempted by the devil”. Matthew must have considered Jesus’ intentional confrontation with evil to be instructional for his community.
The Spirit wanted to know if Jesus was up to taking on the seemingly impossible job of being the faithful son. Does this newly baptized one really trust what has happened? Will he trust that he is somehow the Son of God? Will he serve only God?
Jesus’ core commitments will be tested. Easy living is not part of Sonship. Closeness to God involves conflict and struggle.
Jesus is tested in three ways. Tempted by food. Tempted by safety and security and tempted by power. But all three are really variations on a theme. How much to trust or distrust God?
Each of the temptations as described by Matthew has a symbolic meaning for us. We are tempted to survive apart from the food that comes from God. We are tempted to assume that God will miraculously protect us. We are tempted to worship the world instead of God.
Central to each one of the challenges that Jesus faced is a single question. To what extent will he trust God to be God and so be himself?
Matthew has Jesus embracing vulnerability and weakness. Trusting in God.
These things may be difficult for us. We do not like to display vulnerability or weakness. We often shy away from reliance on others - preferring to do things on our own. We want to be self reliant. We struggle with relying on God. Maybe we struggle with believing that God knows more than we do. We try to keep it all together. And when we do this we have fallen into temptation. We have been tempted to try to fix things all on our own.
Does this temptation show that we distrust God?
Do we trust God or do we distrust God?
Trust does not come automatically. It takes time to learn to trust - to grow in trust - to admit to weakness and vulnerability. Trust grows over time and experience. God invites us to grow in trust as a part of a worshiping or faithful community. We grow in the gift of faith when we experience challenges or struggles or temptations. When we learn to trust God.
In our Gospel from Matthew the tempter wants to mislead Jesus about the meaning of Sonship and the purposes of God. Jesus comes through each of the tests or temptations because of his reliance on God.
Matthew’s message to his community is that facing temptations are part of being God’s children. In his story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Matthew reassures his audience that whatever form temptation takes it may be passed through by means of trust in God to provide what is needed.
The power of the tempter is real - but it is limited.