Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Into the Wilderness - A Lenten Reflection

by Rev. Laura Barclay
Matthew 4:1-11 - Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 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.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
We are beginning the 40-day period of Lent, when Christians begin a period of reflection and strive for spiritual growth leading up to Easter. For a brief history of Lent, check out my post last year, where I also suggested a resource for prayer and meditation.
In the text above, Jesus has not yet begun his ministry, yet is confronted
with temptation. Material wealth and coercive power are offered if Jesus will just change his path. Instead, Jesus is steadfast in his ways. He recognizes this as petty bribery and knows that he is destined to help God’s people. Often Jesus is pictured as above, a powerful image of a good man versus an ugly demon. I actually prefer the image to the right, with a fatherly looking figure talking to a young man, as if offering him something harmless. It seems to reflect reality and something we might face, making the biblical narrative more approachable. The painting illustrates that our seemingly innocuous decisions can have a large impact, for good or bad.
I wonder what this looks like in our own lives. Have you ever faced a time when you knew you were coming to a crossroads--that you could either go down a path of self-destruction and selfishness or follow the path of love shown to us by Jesus? Perhaps these are dramatic events like career changes or altering one’s worldview, or perhaps they are small, everyday occurrences like stopping to talk to someone who’s lonely, depressed or in trouble. Maybe it’s re-prioritizing our lives to attempt to make the needs of others more important than ourselves. Whatever that might look like, silence, prayer, and reflection could only help to sort out our confusion and make sure we are living for God and neighbor rather than living only to build wealth and fame for ourselves.
Spirituality and active love are interconnected. Only when we are striving for good practices of silence, meditation, or prayer, can we stop to hear the cries of others, as Jesus did. Most of us are used to a busy pace, so perhaps we would be more comfortable with a walking prayer. During such an active prayer, we can intentionally walk around our cities, towns, and neighborhoods, observing both needs and assets. As we go, let us give prayers of thanksgiving for community assets and ask God how we can help organize those assets to do the greatest good. This kind of walking prayer can be done with family, friends, or church members, and sharing what you discover with them and others might spark something –a new ministry, partnership or sharing of information that could better the community.
May your time of reflection lead you out into the world to join God’s good work.

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