A turbulent ministry

Reflection - First Sunday of Lent

Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash

The gospels do not project Jesus as meek and mild - where did that soft image come from? St Luke projects Jesus as a strong man who is in a battle with the opposition from the beginning of his ministry.

Jesus has a turbulent relationship with God, his Father, a challenging relationship in which he is led by the Holy Spirit to those situations where the Father wants him to be. They are difficult incidents and they invite us to the realisation that we can face significant testing if we want to follow Jesus. If we want to be a follower we have to take up our Cross. It makes sense when we read Luke’s gospel.

The temptation of Christ in Luke’s gospel is not really about the three tests that Satan/the evil one/the devil pose for Jesus who rejects the offer to turn stone into bread to feed his hunger or have worldly power or have the Father protect his limited human self.

These three offers from the evil one are really about challenging the relationship Jesus had with the Father, encouraging Jesus to falter, to hold back and think that perhaps the Father didn’t have the direction right, didn’t have the best interests of Jesus at heart. The offers from the devil make a lot of sense.

Because we have just read about the baptism in the Jordan when Jesus knows he is blessed by the Father, knows he is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and knows he is full of the beauty and love of God, the hard time in the desert shocks us.

Spiritual writers have used the desert as a symbolic place where humans have to confront themselves, where they have to withstand challenges to their self-esteem, where they have to make the dangerous journey from counting on self to depending on God. All the time the emptiness of the desert, especially if one is fasting, intimidates the inner self.

The whisper in Jesus’ ear is that he does not have to do this, he does not have to deal with this awkward time in his life, he can have a better life than what the Father seems to be leading him towards. The whisper is always there, it can be in our ears.

We know that when Jesus returns from the desert he goes to his hometown of Nazareth where his own people reject him. No doubt the voice was in his ear again – why have you chosen this life, I can give you a better life?

Luke’s gospel says that having exhausted all the ways of tempting him, the devil left him to return at the appointed time. The appointed time was in the garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross, the supreme and definitive temptation.

Addressing ourselves, there are times when we are tempted in the same way as Jesus, that our relationship with him is empty, that God’s promises mean nothing, that no God is present, that our lives are failures. The same whisperer… It’s good to know what to expect if we love God and believe in the Resurrection.

Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.

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