Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5: 2—6,2 + Matthew 6,1-6, 16-18
1 March 2020 at St. William Churches in Naples, FL
The story that starts Lent for us is a tall tale to tell a deep truth. It’s not about a fruit tree or a snake. It’s about people thinking that they can do what God has already done. Their temptation is to be “like God.” The mistake is the thinking that they could do what God had already done, make them in God’s image. With that, the whole reality of sin is laid out for us. It’s always about us thinking or acting like God. The consequence is obvious, we end up with a distorted image of God, hiding from God and blaming one another.
Satan’s first words to Jesus in these verses from Matthew’s Gospel are carefully chosen: “If you are the Son of God….” The question forces Jesus to think about that. Another way of putting it would be to ask: “Who do you think you are?” That question, my friends, is at the root of every temptation from Eve with a serpent to Jesus in the desert and to every single one of us. For that man and woman in Genesis, the problem is that they forgot that they were the created, not the creator. When the temptation comes for them to make themselves be like God, they fall for it thinking that they can do something God as already done. They fell into the trap of jealousy, being jealous of God, wanting God’s power.
Then comes the desert encounter with temptation. Jesus must figure out who he is as the Son of God, and what he’s doing here. Is he here for himself, or is here for us? This is the challenge that everyone of us faces: the core question: “Who do you think you are?” I have this almost frightening or at least still intimidating memory of my mother standing over me at some point of my childhood after being caught in some forbidden situation. Hands on hips, green eyes glaring, and through clenched teeth these words: “Young man, who do you think you are?” I feel certain that whatever she was mad about, my sister did it, not me! Maybe that same thing has happened to you. If not, you were cheated out of a significant experience. We have to remember who we are. We may not forget that we are children of God, that we are here to serve and care for one another, and that the gifts we have are for God’s glory and the lifting up of our brothers and sisters. When we forget that, temptation has a hold on us.
As this Gospel reveals, it is always going to be about power, power abused, and power used for one’s self, for one’s comfort and one’s own pleasure. It was not about stones, bread, rescue angels or who has the most kingdoms. It was about power abused. The failure to face this temptation affects us all from the greatest seats of power and authority to classrooms and offices. There is a kind of amnesia epidemic around. As children of God and communicants of this church, we have a moral compass that must guide what we say, what we do, and how live together. What is happening all around us is that the will to power has overwhelmed the words of Jesus. The power of truth is being trampled by a thirst for control and self-serving interest.
“Who do you think you are?” is the question raised by the Word of God today. First, we ask that of ourselves as method of self-examination. Then we ask that question of those who are to lead and teach, to govern and serve. When we do, our future will be more secure. Truth will prevail, and we will have a better chance at peace with ourselves and with God.