Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have entered Lent and at the heart of the lectionary readings for the first Sunday in Lent is a great story of liberation: how God intervened to free his people from slavery. The people of Israel were immigrants in Egypt.
However, after they were freed from slavery the people of Israel had to face a new problem: the wilderness. Their new freedom meant new pain and some of them didn’t think much of an escape that led them into a wilderness! Some preferred living under Pharaoh: they preferred the security that went with bondage to the pain that went with freedom. For the price of freedom was wilderness.
During their forty years in the desert the people were tested. They were hungry and wondered if God would pay attention. They were divided in their hearts about God: they wanted to trust him, but their empty stomachs made them doubt. The promised land seemed far away and their hunger was here and now. They were told there was a purpose in their hunger: “to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but… on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The great commandment asked them to be wholehearted in their commitment to God.
It is against that background of Israel’s testing in the desert that the story in Gospel is told. Jesus is the new Israel; he has spent forty days in the wilderness; he is hungry and is tested. And he is tested to see if he will keep the ancient law of his people: to serve God with his whole heart, with his whole soul, and with his whole might.
Jesus is tested to see if he is totally committed or not. Is he like Israel in the desert – half-hearted about God’s plan? Can we be hungry and still trust God?
Jesus is also tested about his attitude to power and wealth. To get power, will he go to any lengths? Will he love God with his whole might, with everything he is and has? Or will he grasp for the kind of power and prestige that most people aspire to and most people admire?
Jesus’ whole life says no to that kind of power and authority. And he will teach his own followers to avoid that kind of power: “You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). And Jesus teaches that with his whole life: he is the Servant of God.
Our testing. Jesus lived his life facing real temptations and that is a measure of his humanity. As we enter Lent we ask ourselves how we face those temptations too. When times get rough and we feel hungry and alone, do we still trust in God? When our life just seems a vast vacancy, do we still believe in the Father who loves us? Are we willing to risk our necks for the sake of the Gospel, or do we settle for guarding our own security? Do we make our authority felt so that people are degraded, or is it a real service to others?
These are not easy questions. They were not easy for Jesus. That is why we need forty days: to let these questions reach us again so that at Easter we can proclaim with an undivided heart that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
For the Church; that the Spirit which filled Jesus will enable all of us to lead lives worthy of our calling and confess with our lips, that Jesus Christ in Lord.
We pray to the Lord.
Revd Abe Konadu-Yiadom (Presbyter)