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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before March 5, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

What I Am Learning:

On the plane home I watched the movie "Loving". It was a wonderful movie. It made me weep a bit.

In one scene, the husband, a white brick mason who had married a black woman, was drinking with some of her family. One of her family told him that "the best thing you could do is divorce her." He went on to say that Mr. Loving could divorce his wife and and be done with all the stress of their inter-racial marriage and as a white man, he could move on and escape the tensions. But this was not an option for black people. They could never divorce their skin.

Mr. Loving did not divorce his wife. He didn't divorce her because he loved her. Together, with the help of the ACLU, they helped redefine marriage laws. Together they supported each other and led each other through that process.

But he did still have what we call "privilege." He had a status as a white person that no black person could have because of the biases and racism in his culture. But he was also willing to give up at least some of his privilege, or at least to use it, because of his love for his wife and children.

Jesus was tempted with his privilege in this week's gospel reading: a privilege contained in the words "son of God."

We Western people tend to see this term as having to do with genetics: that Jesus was conceived without the assistance of a male human being, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Much of Christian theology has focused on this. The point of this focus is to say that in Jesus God joined the human condition and acted out the values of God in his own historical context.

This means that God fully embraced the what human beings often struggle to embrace: lives that include consciousness of our selves, our desire to live and the reality of our vulnerability and death. God embraces our lives fully, even as we struggle to do so.

This means that as we look at Jesus' life in his complex cultural and political context, we see the values and character of the Creator. Since we are made in the image of that Creator, we see the true values and character of God's intention for us. In Jesus God sets us on a journey toward being fully human, knowing that we are embraced as we are along the way.

But there is another aspect of this term "son of God" that we ignore. The People of Israel were often called "the children of God." This meant that each person, male or female, were sons and daughters of God. As they chose to have a king (something God had some warnings about) the king was called "the son of God."

Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm. In this psalm, God declared the new king "my son, today I have begotten you." When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, a voice from heaven speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In this, the voice from heaven announced that Jesus was the king of Israel. This was not just God saying that Jesus was a "good boy." This was Jesus being anointed king.

The second part, "the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" addressed how he would rule. This is a phrase from Isaiah 42 in which Isaiah proposes that the best way to escape the dehumanizing slavery of the Babylonians was through nonviolent, public acts of resistance.

So Jesus was the king, a political leader with a very different strategy and set of values than that of the Roman government.

When Jesus was tempted, the tempter left off the second part. He tempted Jesus with his newfound political privilege as the king of Israel, the son of God. One temptation was to meet his physical needs, the other was to exert control over God, and the third was to become the ruler of the entire world.

Jesus was tempted with the heart of the Roman Empire: the spirituality of power over others we call a domination culture.

Each time Jesus resisted the temptation because he puts the God who announced him king above his own status as king.

Each time, Jesus remembered not only his call to be the King of Israel, but also the values and character of God that would guide his use of that power.

I know that as a white, male, cisgender, married person who has a master's degree, is a pastor of a Christian denomination with a house, car, computer, internet access, a phone, health, dental and vision care, and lots of friends that I have a many privileges that others do not have. And I try to maintain things this way, my car get regular check outs, I fix my house with companies as The Roof Clinic, and I visit my friends regularly.

We begin Lent this week. It is a time for us to reflect on the depth and authenticity of our discipleship of Jesus. The questions I will be reflecting on are these:

  • Am I willing to put God, the Creator of all things, whose image is in each human being, before my privilege?
  • Am I willing to hold myself accountable, as Jesus did, the values and character of the God who has called me to my vocations as husband, father, son, sibling, pastor, public leader and friend?

To be a Christian is not to claim a status over others. It is to be a part of a community which is willing to risk for and with others because of the God-given status of each person as God's beloved children.

What questions will guide your Lenten reflections?