(For a rest home)
The gospel we have heard is about the three temptations, where the devil tempted Jesus. Now if the devil can tempt the son of God, it will come as no surprise that the devil can tempt us. Perhaps temptations were easier to see and succumb to when many of you were younger – after all, some of the more fleshly things we can be tempted to are not so easy as we get older. For example, it may have been easy to buy the shoes you really shouldn’t when you could get out to the shops. But in the situation for most of you here in Longview, those days are in the past. Maybe the days of temptation are in the past too.
But hang on, the devil doesn’t retire. He doesn’t leave us alone just because we become less able physically. It’s in our thoughts and our speech that all of us can still be tempted. Thinking unkind thoughts about a person may be a temptation from the devil, it may just be a symptom of our frail human flesh. Speaking unkind words the same, like grumbling– and it’s understandable to be unhappy with a body that no longer obeys us, joints that creak with pain, and a mind that doesn’t join up the dots quite as well as it did. These times are a real challenge for all of us. We all, no matter what age and stage we are at, have to cope with living in a human body.
And that’s where the devil started to tempt Jesus. He knew Jesus was famished after eating nothing for forty days! I have enough trouble fasting for four hours, let alone a longer time! This point of human weakness was the devil’s first port of call to tempt Jesus. In Jesus’ human weakness, the devil tackled him at his most frail point.
But Jesus had another strength in him, the divine strength that comes from the Holy Spirit. He was not tempted to satisfy his bodily hunger. He knew that other hungers were already satisfied by things other than bread.
The second temptation the devil threw at Jesus was one of power, reputation, being universally adored and obeyed. We too can be tempted by a desire for power, control. But again Jesus knew that anything that was not God should not be worshipped. Whenever we get a swelled head because something has gone well for us, our community is quick to pull us down. I think it’s called the Great New Zealand Clobbering Machine! This is a temptation we can resist too, knowing where we stand in regard to God.
The third temptation was about Jesus’ physical safety. The devil tried to tempt him to disregard all sensible care of his body, and rely on angels to protect him. This may be a temptation that some of our young relatives and friends face more than we do – just think about the apparent invincibility of youth, but also of our fears as our young men start driving, at the same age as they start drinking. This is an area where we can pray for those we know who are tempted to treat their bodies badly, whether with risky behaviour, or by abusing drugs and alcohol, or by staying in unsafe relationships. It can also be about not following medical advice. The Holy Spirit supported Jesus through this temptation too.
I find this reading quite reassuring really – so much of our picture of Jesus is tinged by a sort of untouchable holiness – I don’t think that’s how he is portrayed in the gospels, but later images show him like that. But here we have a real human being, made of weak, hungry flesh, just like ours. The devil came to tempt him, just as he comes to tempt us, when we are at our lowest ebb.
But in this story we have our pattern for resisting the temptation of the flesh and the devil – by focusing on who God is, and who we are in God, and knowing that God walks with us all the time.