Tuesday, March 28, 2017

True Blindness

An icon depicting the story of Jesus healing the blind man.

This past Sunday's Scriptures all dealt with the theme of blindness, both physical and (especially) spiritual. We read the entire ninth chapter of the Fourth Gospel, which is a bit tedious with all of its back-and-forth between the characters, but that length only hammers home the theme of blindness even more, and the tension is ratcheted up. See for yourself:

'As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”'

--John 9

Did you notice how the tension built? I suspect that it is because, in their own way, each character in this little drama are suffering from a form of blindness (except Jesus, of course!).

Immediately we are told about a man who is born blind—the ancient church gave him the name Celidonius. His blindness is pretty obvious. But what of the other characters? We next hear Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It was common in the ancient world to associate pain with punishment—God is angry over something I did, so God caused me to go blind or took away a loved one. Several religions, including Judaism and Islam, believe that our souls exist before they enter our human bodies--in Jewish tradition souls reside in a place called the Room of Guff, and when that room is empty Messiah will come. Thus, it was actually possible for us to sin before we are ever even born, and the disciples' question isn't as crazy as it sounds Furthermore, it was widely believed then, as it is in some circles now, that the sins of the parents could be visited upon the children. Therefore, as far as the disciples are concerned, someone must have done something wrong for this poor soul to be born blind! But Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that, in this case, they are the blind ones because God does not work that way! God does not cause bad things to happen to good people, rather bad things just happen, but even when such bad things happen God’s grace can still be revealed. This was a difficult new teaching for the disciples, and they have a tough time with it, but to be fair it was hard for most people in Jesus' day.

Still, the ones that seem to suffer from the most severe case of blindness are the Pharisees, those guys who had a slavish devotion to the Law, so much so that they could not see how God could possibly function outside of it. It’s a sabbath day, and they see Jesus make mud by spitting on some clay—which constitutes work—and that means that he has violated the 4th Commandment. He’s a sinner! He has no regard for the Law, obviously. But some within the Pharisees' own circle begin to think twice about Jesus; after all, he cures a man who was born blind! The Pharisees, though, dig in their heels and say that it must not be the same man. They call in Celidonius, but when his responses are unsastifactory, they call in his parents to question them. They cooperate but are so afraid that the Pharisees will take out their frustrations on them, that they say, “Hey! He’s a man, take it up with him!” They throw their son under the bus, blind to the compassion that they should show him. The Pharisees then call Celidonius back in. They KNOW Jesus is a sinner, he violates the Law! He’s a false prophet who is performing miracles to get everyone to come over to his side, and then when the time is right he will destroy them all—as a footnote, Deuteronomy 13: 1-5 warned against such false prophets who produce false signs to lure people away from God, giving some validity to the Pharisees' fears. Celidonius counters them by saying that if this man were not from God he could do nothing—the Hebrew Testament is full of moments in the Psalms, Job, and the prophets where it’s clear that God does not hear the prayers of bad people, and the Pharisees knows this well. Nevertheless, the Pharisees continue in their blindness; they know what they know, and nothing else, not even facts, matters!

The veil of fundamentalism.

The blindness experienced by the Pharisees is the kind that is a by-product of fundamentalism. It’s like a veil that covers the eyes and is tied so tightly that it cannot ever be pulled away, and knowing that it cannot be pulled away, the user just accepts it and never so much as tries to remove it, and God-forbid anyone try to help remove it!  Folks suffering from this kind of blindness say things like “We know!!” or “You’re one of them!” They refuse to entertain points of view that are not their own, and even when folks present them with proof that their view may not be the only one, they soundly refute it! You can’t argue with this kind of perspective. Celidonius gets nowhere when he tries to sway them, and even when Jesus calls them out on their blindness they exclaim, “Surely WE are not blind, are we?” They don't get it! First, they think he's talking about the kind of physical blindness Celidonius suffered from (which he's not!), and second they think that, because they've got it all figured out, they aren't blind in any way, shape or form! That's fundamentalism for you!

This kind of blindness still exists. Too often the ones who follow Jesus use him the same way the Pharisees used the Law. They interpret Jesus' saying in ways that he never intended and refuse any interpretation that is not theirs. They, like the Pharisees, say things like, They start putting words in Jesus’ mouth, they interpret his sayings in ways that he never intended, and they start saying things like, “We know the right way to live!” and “You’re wrong for not believing what we believe!” Like the Pharisees, they are spiritually blind, unable and unwilling to see any way that is not theirs.

But that’s not how Jesus operates. He gives us, as he gave the people in his day, the light of God’s love and mercy, so that they would no longer live in darkness—as Paul reminds the folks in Ephesus that they are now living in that light (Ephesians 5: 8-14). Jesus gives a light that helps us see things as God sees them, not just as we see them—it’s the same light that guided Samuel to choose David as king, even though his instincts told him the stronger, older sons of Jesse should have been chosen (I Samuel 16: 1-13). The light of Christ, which we Christians claim burns in each of us, is the light that is meant to scatter the darkness of close-mindedness and lift the veil of fundamentalism from our eyes, that we may see aright. When that veil is lifted, we see the world is a lot bigger than what we have made it to be, and that God is a whole lot bigger than we could ever imagine!

The Pharisees—and those who carry on their legacy today—may have their physical sight, but their spirits are blind. If we think about it, though, that blindness is kind of attractive. Things are easier when you think you have it all figured out. When the world exists in a series of absolutes—our way and their way—right and wrong seems pretty clear. But as Obi-Wan Kenobi reminds us:


Those who dwell in darkness deal in absolutes, but those who belong to the light are able to see the nuances, as Jesus did. They see the gray areas and are able to say to a brother or sister, "I know your perspective is different, but I hear you and respect you!" This is the Good News that is there for us in this super long gospel reading! If we belong to the light, if we embrace the light of Jesus, then our souls will not fall into blindness, the darkness will be scattered before us, the glory of God will be revealed in us, and we will truly be able to see. Thank you, Celidonius (and the Pharisees), for showing us what true blindness really is!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thank you, Photina!

"Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.'"
--John 4: 5-7

The meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

You don't know her name, but you all know who she is.  She is the Samaritan woman at the well, and as one theologian put it, without her we do not have a Church today.

While this woman goes nameless in the Gospel, the ancient Church gave her the name Photina, which means "the luminous one."  Following her encounter with Jesus she continued to preach about his salvific love and was eventually martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero by being thrown down a dry well.  Her faith, it was said, was equal to that of the apostles because she shared Jesus' message with so many, and the Church in the East still honors her as a major saint on both February 26 and the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Photina's importance cannot be overstated, yet in order to really grasp how significant she is, we have to understand who she is:  a woman, and even more than that, a Samaritan.  By now we all know the routine--Jewish men were forbidden from talking to women in public, and the Jews and Samaritans didn't get along--and so the fact that Jesus stops and speaks to her is remarkable; furthermore, she's first Gentile convert in the Fourth Gospel, and the conversation they have is the single longest conversation Jesus has with any other person throughout any of the Gospels!  But why is this conversation such a radical moment?  If we look at the relationship between Jews and Samaritans we see why.

Both Jews and Samaritans claimed Abraham as their ancestor, and both worshipped the Most High God.  Yet, there were conflicts, which were mainly two-fold: First, Samaritans only regarded the first five books of the Hebrew testament as legitimate.  Just Torah, nothing else, no prophets, no psalms, just those five, and in their version the holy site was not Mount Zion but Mount Gerazim, the very place where we find Jesus meeting Photina.  Still, the biggest wedge driven between the Jews and Samaritans came during the days of exile, around 720 BC.  The Assyrians came in from the north, and when they did they captured Samaria and took may of their people captive.  Those Samaritans not taken away decided that, in order to survive, they would inter-marry with their foreign invaders.  The Jews, who were in the region of Judea just south of Samaria, were outraged at this. A few years later, when the Babylonians came and invaded Judea, the Jews there stood their ground and refused to inter-marry.  A long time passed, and eventually all the folks in exile were allowed to return home, and around 450 BC the Jews began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but when the Samaritans came down south to offer aid, they were refused with extreme prejudice.  To the Jews the Samaritans had committed an unforgivable sin:  they had forsaken their identity, and in doing so lost the right to be called Jews at all.  That had been four centuries earlier, and the conflict was still hot in Jesus' day.

Governor Zerubabbel rejects Samaritan assistance in rebuilding the Temple (c. 450 BC)

With that in-mind, we can begin to understand how significant a figure Photina is and how radical a conversation this is that she is having with Jesus.  Neither rejects the other, nor do they ignore each other--both options would have been acceptable.  Neither ridicules the other's worship methods, ancestral background, or ethnicity. Instead, they have a conversation with each other. That conversation leads to a relationship.  That relationship leads to Photina's life being changed. And that change in her life leads her to share her story with others in Sychar.  And that sharing leads to the Gospel spreading to Samaritans and other Gentiles.  And that spreading leads to us worshipping here in our communities every Sunday morning.  And it all began with an encounter between two individuals who could only be described as an extreme Other. 

It was hard for the disciples to understand.  Why would Jesus talk to a Samaritan?  Why would he talk to a woman?   It seemed like a waste of time to them.   To be fair, it doesn't seem like such a big deal to us now; after all, they both worshipped the same God.  But what if we put it into a more modern context?

Imagine a Christian pastor or priest having a conversation with a Muslim woman on the side of the road.  The Christian and Muslim believe in the same God, but their methods are different.  The Christian's holiest city is Jerusalem, the Muslim's is Mecca.  The Christian's primary languages have been Greek and Latin, and the message of faith found in the revelation of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Muslim's primary language is Arabic, and the message of faith found in the revelation of God to the prophet Muhammad.  They pray differently, dress differenlty, and have different diets, but at no time in that conversation does the Christian or Muslim dismiss  the other.  Instead, they tell their stories, and God is alive in them in ways they never knew before, transforming both of their lives.

It is in the spirit of Photina and Jesus that I have been regularly having such conversations with Muhammad Elahi, the imam for the Islamic Cultural Center of Asheboro.  For about a month now I have joined him and another Christian pastor in town--and their families--for dinner, during which time we read the Quran and the Gospels, and we ask questions, and we explore.  And you know what we learn, each and every time?  Our similarities far outweigh our differences, and our God is big enough to hold us both.  We need not fear each other, nor reject or ignore each other.  As Jesus and Photina both went outside the comforts of their respective societies by speaking with each other, we are doing the same, reminding ourselves that the face of God is often times found in the extreme Other, that the message of God's love is sometimes spoken in a foreign language.  I was blessed to pray at Muhammed's mosque on Friday, and I hope someday soon to have him join us at Good Shepherd sometime soon.  The fruits of Photina and Jesus' conversation are rich, even to this day, and while I don't know what will ultimately be the fruits of our conversations, I am certain that God is moving in them and that God will change all of our lives for the better because of them.

What does the extreme Other look like to you?  Who is the person that could be describe as your complete opposite?  I want you to picture that type of person.  Now I wonder what might happen if you stepped out of your own comfort zone and had a conversation and formed a relationship with that person, as Jesus and Photina did.  Maybe you'll learn something about them, and even about yourself, and about God.  Maybe you'll see that God is big enough to hold you both. Our church, after all, exists in no small part due to such a holy conversation.   Thanks be to God for that!  Blessed, Photina, pray for us!  

Saint Photina of Samaria

Monday, March 13, 2017

Embracing the Journey

"The LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'  So Abram went, as the LORD had told him."
Genesis 12: 1-4a

There is something that has bothered folks like me for years.  In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, why don’t Frodo and Sam take the giant eagles to Mordor to destroy the One Ring?  Why did they have to go all that way, face all of those dangers, and almost get themselves killed when Gandalf could have just whistled and called on one of those giant eagles to fly them to Mount Doom, so they could just drop the ring in the fire?  For those who have never read or watched The Lord of the Rings, I apologize. 

Why didn't they just use the eagles?!

The answer to that frustrating question that has haunted nerds for so long is two fold:  first, it would’ve made for a dull story, and second, it’s about the journey more than the destination.  The end result, the destruction of the One Ring, is important, but without the journey we don’t get to see Sam and Frodo grow; what's more, we don't to meet some wonderful characters like Golom, Legolas, or Tree Beard, nor do we get to see great battles like Helms Deep.  In short, we miss out on pretty much anything from the middle of the first book to the end of the third.  It’s the journey that we remember more than the final destination. 

In the 12th chapter of the Book of Genesis we are introduced to a man not unlike Sam or Frodo.  His name is Abram, son of Terrah.  He is 75 years old when we meet him, living with his wife Sarai and nephew Lot in a town called Haran in Ur of the Chaldeans.  Abram hears God telling him to pick up and leave this land that he has known since he was a young man, and go to a new place where God will make him a great nation and will bless him and make his name great.  And so Abram’s journey begins. 

What a journey it is!  Abram and his family move into the land of Canaan, where God promises to Abram that his descendants will be given this land.  But they don’t stay there, they keep going, to Shechem, to the hill country east of Bethel, and on toward the Negev. When a famine strikes the land, they move down to Egypt, and then back up toward the Negev, into the plain of the Jordan.  They keep moving, and Abram meets Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God and gives him 1/10th of all his possessions. Lot, Abram’s nephew, gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, so Abram helps get him out. It’s around this time that God gives Abram and Sarai new names—Abraham and Sarah—and promises that they’ll have a son.  When Abraham is 100 and living as an alien in Gerar, which is between Kadesh and Shur, his son Isaac is born.  A few years later, God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac, but when Abraham is about to do it, God stops him at the last minute.  Soon after that they settle in Hebron, the land of the Hitittes, where Sarah dies.  Isaac then gets married to Rebekah, his cousin, and Abraham marries Keturah, who gives birth to six sons. Finally, Abraham dies at the ripe old age of 175, buried with Sarah in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron.  Now that’s a journey! Those are some characters; after all, where do you think Tolkien got his ideas from?!

A map showing the journey of Abraham and his family.

It was 100 years from the time Abram was first called by God to the moment Abraham breathed his last.  And when all was said and done, Abraham did not inherit, control, or even live in the land that God promised.  Instead, it would be over 400 years until the descendants of Abraham would settle in that Promised Land.  It wasn’t so important for Abraham that he himself make it there, because he and his family created promised lands wherever they went.  They built altars to the Most High God, they shared their faith with the people they met, and they embraced the journey because that journey changed their lives--they got new names--and even their worldview--folks who're 100 years old aren't supposed to have babies.  Moreover, the lives of their descendants, and the lives of the kings and nations that they met along the way were all transformed by Abraham and Sarah's journey.   

We are all on a journey this Lent.  Like Abram it is a journey of transformation.  It’s not always easy, but it leads us to finding our true selves, the person God meant for us to be, as Abram’s journey led him to become Abraham.  And along the way, we move, we change, we grow, and we learn something new about ourselves, about each other, and about God.

What has this journey been like for you so far?  In what ways are you being changed?  Perhaps you’ve learned something new. Perhaps you’ve encountered new friends and engaged with others in ways you never thought possible.  The church I serve had its first women's retreat in two years this past weekend, and many of the ladies commented about how much they learned about themselves and each other.  On Friday night, my dog Casey and I did slept outside with a group of students as part of the local community college's Night of Understanding for Homeless Awareness.  During that cold evening I learned a lot about myself and came face-to-face with my own privilege, and I met God in the faces of the folks that we helped the following morning. This season of Lent invites us to go on a journey toward transformation, whether we are catechumens preparing for baptism at Easter, or we are just folks eagerly looking forward to the Resurrection, we are all on a journey of self-discovery, of growth, and of transformation.  I wanna hear about your journey!  Has it been hard?  What kind of transformation are you experiencing?  I invite you to share your journey.  Post something to social media, or take a friend to lunch this week and talk about this journey God has called you on. I think you'll be surprised at just how deep you can go and just how much God has already changed you!

Images from the Night of Understanding this past weekend.  (Left) Students sit outside in the cold on Friday night.  (Right) Folks show up to get supplies and have lunch Saturday afternoon.

The journey can be long, and we may wish it to be over quickly. Still, we can’t jump straight to Easter anymore than Frodo and Sam could’ve taken the eagles to Mount Doom or Abraham could have hopped on over to Canaan land and just pitched his tent.  We need the journey because it’s there, in the wilderness of our lives, that we grow, that we meet God, that we find new ways of being, and that we are transformed into who it is we were meant to be.  That’s certainly what happened to Abram, and if we take on the journey and remember God is with us—as God was with him—then we too will be transformed.  Embrace the journey, brothers and sisters.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Striking Out The Devil

'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.'
--Matthew 4: 1-11

  Jesus was tempted.  It's a somewhat uncomfortable fact for some Christians, but he was.  In every way as we are, and if we look closely at this story we call The Temptation in the Wilderness, we see that those temptations fall into three categories:  temptations for possession, prestige, and power.  

A mosaic depicting the temptation for possession.

So let's look at his first temptation.  Jesus is wandering in the desert, no doubt starving, and the devil comes and tells him to turn the stones into bread.  Feed himself, and he'll be satisfied and full.  The implication is that if Jesus had enough of a  material object--in this case bread--everything will be alright.  This is the temptation for possession;  the illusion that bread will satisfy Jesus' hunger,  and he will be happy and secure.  But Jesus resists, saying that one does not live by bread alone.  He knows that material goods, even bread, are not the means to ultimate satisfaction, only God is.  Strike one for the devil.

 A children's Bible depiction of the temptation for prestige

For the second temptation, the devil says, "Hey, if you're the Son of God, jump off the temple, and let the angels catch you."  The devil even uses a portion of Psalm 91 to convince Jesus that it's ok.  This is the temptation for prestige.  Take up this position atop the temple, symbol of God's authority, jump off, and if you're really so special, God will save you! But Jesus resists; one shouldn't put God to the test because one needn't prove one's worth before God.  The devil's promoting a form of idolatry, making ones ego into ones God.  But Jesus does not seek the gratification of his own ego, he seeks only God's will.  Strike two for the devil.

 An icon depicting the temptation for power.

 Finally, for the third third temptation the devil offers Jesus dominion over all the kingdoms of the world.  This the temptation for power.  There's no vulnerability here, only the lure of control over of everything and everyone.  This is top-down power, the kind Pharoah's Egypt exercised, the kind Rome exercised.  But Jesus resists; this is not God's brand of power.  That power is shown in vulnerability, in self-sacrifice, not glorification. Strike three.  The devil is out.

There was a movie in 2015 called Last Days in the Desert, which tells this story of Jesus wandering and being tempted by the devil, and it stars the best Jedi ever, Evan McGregor, as Jesus.  What's fascinating is that he doesn't just play Jesus, he plays the devil too.  Here the devil comes to Jesus looking and sounding exactly like Jesus.  The message is clear:  these temptations are coming from Jesus himself.  We may not be comfortable with this idea, but if the Incarnation is real, and Jesus actually is fully human, then that means he would be tempted as we are.  It also means that those same temptations are there inside each one of us.  

 The trailer for Last Days in the Desert, starring Ewan McGregor as Jesus (and the devil).

We know these temptations well, and honestly I think every temptation we feel can be classified under one of these three--possession, prestige, and power.  They come from a place of fear.  Our temptation for possession comes from our fear of being without, and it tells us that if we get more and more stuff--more money, more possessions--then we will be filled and satisfied.  Our temptation for prestige comes from our fear of losing our identity, so we build up our egos and try to prove our self worth because then we'll make other people love us, including God.  Our temptation for power comes from our fear of not being in control, resulting in us creating top-down power structures that put ourselves--and those like us--in the positions of control because, after all, we know we're right. Yes, brothers and sisters, I'd say we all know these temptations very very well.

Jesus resisted these temptations, but how?  I suspect it was because Jesus knew who he really was, knew whose he was.  He knew that no amount of bread or any other possession would satisfy him, only God could.  He knew that he didn't have to put God to the test and seek any prestige because he knew he was already loved by God.  And he knew that power-over others only breeds fear and resentment, but God's vulnerable, bottom-up power breeds hope, and love, and respect, especially for those he called "the least of these."  Jesus resisted because he knew that possessions, prestige, and power would never bring him true fulfillment or satisfaction.  Only God could.  But what about us?  How can we possibly resist such temptations? 

Maybe you're thinking, "That's because he was God Incarnate, and I'm not him."  No, we're not Jesus.  But we do have a spark of God inside each of us.  Call it a soul, a conscience, or whatever, but it's that part of us that came from God and will return to God.  It's also the part that tells us, deep down, that possession, prestige, and power will not ultimately satisfy us. Only God can do that.  Each of us has that Divine spark in us, and each has that voice speaking to us, reminding us who we are and whose we are.  The difference between us and Jesus is that he heard that voice more clearly, but that voice is calling to us as well.  Our hearts and minds are so often cluttered by what the world tells us we need that we become afraid and what we really need gets distorted:  we need more stuff, we need to be popular and satisfy our egos, we need to gain more power and be the boss.  But what if we could shut the world out for a minute and hear that divine voice inside us?  Maybe then we'd actually believe we are made in the beloved and beautiful image of God.  Maybe then we'd know that all we really need is God, not stuff,  that our egos need not be inflated because we are already loved and have nothing to prove, and that true power  is God's alone, and it looks like the vulnerable power shown by Jesus.  We may not be Jesus, but we can resist the world's temptations like he did; we just have to block the world out, look inside us, find that Divine spark, and hear that voice telling us "You are my beloved!"

Saint Augustine summed it up when he said "our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God."  Jesus was able to resist his temptations because he knew this fact.  And deep down we do too.  Possession, prestige, and power may tempt us, but they belong to the world.  We belong to God.  Find your Divine spark and listen to that voice telling you, like Jesus, to resist. Remember, brothers and sisters.  Remember who and whose you really are.  And you'll strike out the devil, too!