Skip to content

Visions from The Catacombs, Week before February 22, 2015


Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

What I am Learning:

Between Jesus’ baptism and his commissioning as the Non-violent Messiah and the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus was tempted.

Interestingly enough, the origin of the word “satan” was the name for a Persian secret service agent. These agents would pretend to be regular people who tried to test people’s allegiance to the king by trickery.

I went to see the movie “Selma” with Sheryl a few weeks ago. One of the things that struck me about how Dr. King was portrayed in the movie was the many ways he was tempted.

I am not speaking about the temptations regarding the multiple affairs that Dr. King was involved in, although the movie handled that honestly, and with appropriate pain.

I am speaking about the other temptations and distractions and pressures that impacted this young man in his public role.

On several occasions he was asked by the President to wait his turn as other issues and legislation was deemed more important. How tempting being asked “to be reasonable” is!

He was asked by the clergy in Birmingham why we was causing so much trouble. He responded in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

But Dr. King refused to be reasonable saying that the rights and needs of black folk in the South and throughout the country could not wait.

King rejected the temptation to be reasonable.

Dr. King knew that the FBI was bugging his telephone and his house and their meetings. How easy it would have been to become so self-conscious that he and the other leaders of the movement bogged down.

But Dr. King continued to do his work and the movie showed King and the other leaders often joked about the bugs and told them to tell President Johnson things.

King rejected the temptation of crippling self-consciousness.

King and his family often received death threats and sometimes attempts were made at his and his family’s life. The church were he served was bombed and children died. Fear of death is a powerful temptation.

King and his wife named this fear that often overwhelmed them. They sought out community and consolation when they needed to.

King rejected the temptation of fear of death and continued his public ministry.

During the movie it was clear that sometimes strife and divisions emerged from within his leadership team. The complexity of working on an issue like this – trying to understand where to start fixing a broken system and to confront denial – was overwhelming and uncertain.

But King and his colleagues continued to both stay steady on their strategy and to learn from their mistakes. They read the work of other leaders, Jesus, Moses, Ghandi and Henri David Thoreau.

King rejected the Temptation to know the outcome before he could act, they embraced complexity.

There are many temptations that come from public leadership on an issue. Some of these are external temptations. Some of them are internal to our own families and our own selves.

King took comfort in the fact that Jesus, who he followed, also was tempted before and during his public ministry. None of these temptations are without their effect, but they can be resisted in faith practices, in mutual support of community, and in the critique of culture that theology and Bible study can offer.

It is worth noting that the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert to be tempted. Better to do some of that before the daily temptations begin.

Of course, the biggest temptations of our time are denial and despair. These two temptations tell us that nothing is wrong and if it is nothing can be done.

Jesus must have faced similar temptations, as King also must have. But after the temptation, Jesus began his public ministry. The temptation did not stop him, but rather formed him for the hard and rewarding work ahead. The temptation helped him to understand the cost of his work. To embrace the joy of work, we must understand and accept its cost.

In our baptism we are commissioned as Jesus was commissioned. We are a part of the body of the Nonviolent Messiah called to take part with God in the healing and creation of the world. And so we will be tempted like him.

And by the gift of the Spirit we will be strengthened for our public ministry – whatever that is – and find joy in doing it together.