We begin Lent with the story of Jesus temptation. He has just been baptised by John (Matthew 3:13-17), recognised not only by the Baptist, but by the heavenly voice affirming him as Son. Then the Holy Spirit leads him away from the crowds to the wilderness, and we read Matthew 4:1-11. It is as if the heavenly father adds, “But before anything else, there are a few things you need to sort out, Son.” His forty days of fasting and struggle, the origin of our Lent, remind us both of the cost of Jesus’ ministry and also the strength he brought to this work.
Sometimes we focus on the three particular temptations – things which have so often made leaders corrupt and compromised:
- there is the temptation to make life comfortable, a compensation for the stress of leadership.
- there is the temptation to be a celebrity – to use power to make people take notice and obey.
- there is the temptation to be the person who makes God do miracles.
Some of these affect us, too, and we can usefully be warned off. But there is another thing here we can miss. Jesus is struggling. There is a real fight – but against who? Many expected a Messiah to fight the Romans, but we don’t hear Jesus attacking Pilate, the Roman governor. Herod was criticised by John the Baptist, but Jesus will not be his enemy. He will warn people against the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, religious teachers, but they are not to be fought. Even Judas receives kindness.
We have to understand that the fight against temptation is a fight against evil, but not a fight against other people. (Paul says this in another way in Ephesians 6:12). No matter how stupid, how difficult to deal with patiently and in love, the enemy is not another human (for whom Jesus lived, died and rose again!), but the evil at loose in the world. Evil will appear as pride, anger, self-pity, or in many other disguises eg as if concerned about the rights of others. The grace is to recognise evil and temptation as cheats, with half truths and false promises. Then with God’s help, we can go the way of real life, and freedom.