We hear an invitation from Jesus to reset our priorities on what is truly life-giving. In the face of real earthly temptation, Jesus resists the allure of power, invincibility, and riches. This is how he begins his ministry to fulfill God’s promises to God’s people.
Matthew 4: 1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
This week our confirmation class studied this scripture using our contemplative process in which we read it three times, reflecting on a new question each round. One seventh grader, upon considering how this passage connected with his life, said something really profound.
“It reminds me that what is easy is not always the best choice. Sometimes we have to choose to do what is hard rather than what is easy.”
Yes! At the start of a new year, I can’t think of a better reminder to choose what is actually fulfilling, even when it’s hard. Because as tempting as it is to “push the easy button,” it almost surely will be fleeting happiness, only to leave us feeling empty once more.
When Jesus is offered the world’s riches and complete earthly power, he KNOWS what seems tempting in the moment isn’t the best choice. That’s the path of righteousness he forges for us. And when he says that our highest calling is to worship God- to serve God alone, I believe him… because time and again, he chose to deny his own comfort in favor of our care. That’s the kind of God I want in my life.
We are often tempted to believe that pursuing our own comfort is the same as pursuing self-care. I recently learned the distinction between the two, and I think it’s super helpful. Neither are wrong, per say. For comfort think: a pint of ice cream while watching a marathon show on TV. For self-care think: taking a walk on your favorite path to destress and unwind. Both of these activities can be good, but here’s the question to ask yourself when making a choice between the two: is seeking comfort getting in the way of self-care? You might say YES if your “comfort” choices are making you slip into distraction, numbness, and excessive soothing at the expense of your values. Self-comfort might actually be getting in the way of self-care if it prevents you from addressing the issue that is conflicting with what you value most.
We all face temptations, many of which promise us temporary happiness, but true joy is never found in earthly things. God has something much greater in store for anyone willing to open their hearts to their Creator: Our ultimate fulfillment is of a spiritual nature, never the glamor of the world.
CS Lewis makes this point clear: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” He speaks often of this temptation to pursue earthly things as a distraction from what really matters. He says, “If you live for the next world, you get this one in the deal. But if you live only for this world, you lose them both.
If there’s one reason to read the Gospels, it’s this: with every homeless night on earth, Jesus embodies what it is to find our purpose apart from material things. That’s what makes his reign on earth, his kingdom of heaven so very different. So obscure, in fact, that we still find it hard to fathom even 2000+ years later. He accomplished what none of us can on our own- true detachment from the temptations of power, wealth, and distracting comfort.
I don’t know what’s numbing your spirit or distracting you from your own best intentions, but I do know that Jesus keeps right on asking us to be mindful about our choices. How are you pursuing what is truly life-giving? Like most of scripture, there is no formula for right-living, and we don’t need one! The truth has been knit within our very souls. We need only pay attention to the still small voice speaking truth amidst the voices of temptation raging around us and within us. This I know: Jesus wrestles with temptation, and Jesus wins! We can conquer our own temptation for the sake of the life-giving way Jesus intends for us all- the life that really is life! A spiritual life of abundance and peace. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.