We have entered a new season in the church called Lent, a time of preparation for the great feast of Easter. At Easter, we celebrate Jesus dying and rising to new life—so full of the life of God that he can never die again! But before we celebrate, we prepare. There will be six purple Sundays to prepare for the feast.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we hear about what happens right after Jesus is baptized. Jesus goes into the desert, a place where very few people live, where it gets very hot during the day and cold at night. It rains very little. For 40 days and 40 nights he stays in the desert, eating very little, spending time alone with God. When he is extremely hungry, the devil—the tempter—comes to him with three very attractive suggestions. We call these temptations.
We will look today at the second temptation that St. Matthew tells us about.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
We can imagine how weak Jesus must feel after living for 40 days and 40 nights with very little food and water. He has spent 40 silent days and nights listening only to God. He knows who he is and what God needs him to do—to gather all people into God's love.
Now this guy is telling him to prove himself? Prove that he is the Son of God? Seriously?
Would that not be great, though, to show this guy—the devil and everyone else, too—just who he is? We can just imagine seeing Jesus fling himself off the Temple only to be caught by God's angels! Who then would not believe that he is the Son of God? Everyone would know who he is.
But would everyone be gathered into God's love?
Jesus is weak and hungry, yes, but he has spent all that time in the presence of God's love. Even now, his feet rest on the top of the Temple, the most holy place in Israel. God's place. His Father's house.
He knows who he is and what he must do. He answers,
“Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’"
The second temptation prepares Jesus for another moment—just before his death. As he hangs on the cross, people pass by, making fun of him, saying,
“You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Sounds similar, does it not?
We might wish that Jesus would just come down off that cross, to prove to everyone once and for all that he can do it. "See?" he could say, "I am the Son of God." Then he could hop back up on the cross. He could do that. But it would not be an act of love.
Jesus' death is a tremendous act of love, following God's will the whole time. And his death leads to the greatest moment in history—the Resurrection—the moment that begins to gather everyone into God's perfect, abundant love:
We do not know if it is the tempter's plan to prepare Jesus for the moment of his death. We do not know if he realizes that at on the cross Jesus will recall the 2nd temptation and stay focused on God.
Perhaps these 40 days of Lent help us prepare like Jesus to stay focused on God. Perhaps resisting temptation helps us to listen more closely to the Word of God. If we make resisting temptation our practice during Lent, what will we discover? We wonder...will we be gathered up into God's Great Plan of Love?