The hard work of transformation

Lent 1 – 2010
Luke 4:1-15
Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to persevere to the end. Amen.

There are no quick fixes in this life. If you want to become a concert pianist, you must practice and practice until you get the pieces just right. If you want to become an Olympic swimmer, you must give up your social life and your sleep and train everyday until you reach a speed at which you make the grade. If you want to paint, sew, ride a bike, play an instrument, you have to do the hard yards, you have to experience the disappointment of the initial failures, and slow progress until at last you have mastered the technique and achieved some sort of competence.

Many things have their own time and trying to speed the process can lead to difficulties down the road. Grief for example needs time to be worked through. Being stoic and pushing the sadness aside may seem useful at the time, but it may only delay the effect. The grief may find other, less healthy ways to work itself out. Cheating on an exam may get good results in the short term, but it defeats the purpose of becoming competent in a subject and eventually the one who cheated will be discovered to be a fraud.

In today’s gospel the devil offers Jesus a number of short cuts – miracles, absolute power and getting God do it all. At first glance they all make sense – which is why they are tempting. What better way to get everyone in the world to believe in you than performing a few miracles? Turning stones into bread would certainly get people’s attention. The problem is that those who believed would not believe in Jesus because he was Jesus, but only for what they could get from him. When the miracles came to an end so would their faith. Jesus would have to keep on performing miracles to keep their attention.

Absolute power appears to be another good idea. If Jesus ruled the world, then surely he could make people believe in him. The whole enterprise would take much less time, if only he could force people into doing what he wanted. Again, this method has its limitations. Belief that is the result of force is not really belief at all. Given freedom to choose, those forced to believe might choose to turn their backs on him.

That leaves the last temptation – throwing yourself off a cliff and waiting for God to catch you. In other words, give all the responsibility back to God, after all, God could do the job much more efficiently and quickly. However, this too would fail. For it is only through the human Jesus, that humanity can be restored to its proper relationship with God. Knowing all this, Jesus says: “no” to the easy options which the devil presents.

Jesus knows that his role (even though he is God’s Son) is to fully experience the human condition, to take on the pain and suffering of the world, to demonstrate that perfect obedience is possible and to thereby undo the damage that willful disobedience has caused to the relationship between human beings and God.  It is the whole story not half the story which will lead to salvation for all.
Taking a short cut, even with all the pizzazz and the power which the devil offers might have a positive effect in the short term, but it will lead to a completely different end result. In fact, it will lead to no result at all because the difficult question of humankind’s disobedience will not have been answered and God will have been relegated to a being a source of miracles, a safety net, or a despot to be outwardly obeyed, but inwardly ignored. What appears to be a quick fix is actually leaves us with the status quo.

Throughout his life, Jesus indicates that he is not interested in quick fixes. He has taken on a task and he will see it through to its painful, disgraceful and ugly end. When John suggests that he doesn’t need to be baptized, Jesus insists that it is the proper thing to do. When it would be easy not to antagonize the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus refuses to compromise what he believes to be true. When Peter suggests that Jesus should not face the cross, Jesus accuses Peter of being Satan. When Jesus prays in Gethsemane, he ultimately decides to accept the difficult way ahead. When Peter later draws his sword, Jesus rebukes him and when passers-by suggest that he should save himself, Jesus ignores them.

To heed the devil and take the easy way out would be to cheapen what Jesus is trying to achieve. Already he knows that there is no magic formula, just hard slog – to preach the message of God’s love and forgiveness, to challenge the complacency of the religious leaders,  to demonstrate complete trust in God, and ultimately, to accept rejection and to be forsaken by all. Jesus knows that he can only defeat sin, if he refuses to give in to sin. He can only defeat death, if he faces death head on and comes out the other side. Jesus knows that the only way to the resurrection is through the crucifixion and that the only way to achieve salvation for humankind is to see the journey through to its bitter end.

So, even though he is famished, Jesus refuses to focus on material things. Even though he has the power to rule the world, Jesus chooses to be a servant and even though he has the choice to call on God to save him from his fate, Jesus refuses to be lured into accepting an easier alternative. While it might appear that Jesus begins his ministry from a position of weakness by refusing to use the resources available to him, his early defeat of the devil indicates his strength. At the end, he will again refuse the temptation to take the easy way out and by so doing he will finally deprive the devil of his power.

Lent is a time for us to test our resolve. Over the next forty days we have an opportunity to see whether we are more attracted to material things than to spiritual things, whether we are more concerned with seek power and status for ourselves or to recognising God’s power in our lives, and whether we are more interested in treating God as a magic talisman or in entering a mature and authentic relationship with God which will lead to our ultimate transformation.

This Lent let us ask ourselves, are we looking for a quick and easy fix, or is our relationship with God one that will overcome any obstacles to deepen and grow until we at last face the final hurdle and share in the resurrection which Christ has won for us?

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