Gospel Reading for First Sunday of Lent (Year C)
I have been overthinking this passage all week long. That is typically what happens when I'm doing the children's sermon for a passage. Especially when you try to figure out how to explain Satan and Jesus going mano a mano in the desert to kids. Though, now that I think about it, they'd probably deal with that scenario better than most adults. But I'm getting off track again.
Basically it goes like this: As Christians, we are to follow Jesus and here Jesus gives us a perfect example of how respond to temptation. This is helpful because temptation is fairly prolific in our everyday lives. So how does Jesus counter temptation? Scripture.
That action seems simple and obvious, but it is a little more nuanced than that. Jesus didn't just quote random scripture. I know there are a few Christians who talk about the Bible as if it were magic. For these individuals, all you have to do is quote any scripture to repel the devil's advances. It doesn't matter if it's "Jesus wept" or a deuteronomistic decree to dig a hole outside the camp for your poop. Alas, the Bible is not a magic book.
Jesus countered with scripture that was specific to his temptation. He knew the texts well enough that he was even able to withstand Satan's own little demonstration of Bible verse memorization. Jesus was able to recall what the Law and the prophets said about how he should live. We should do the same (with the added scripture of the gospels, etc. that we have).
Granted, it is still even more nuanced than that. The Bible is not engineered in such a way that it is going to help us with temptation in a one to one correlation. There are not specific commandments about how to treat a friend who unwittingly shares a super hateful Facebook status. There is no "Thou shalt not gossip about Veronica's choice in clothing." You've got to dig a bit more for guidance in scripture.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Bible is a complex book. It was written by multiple authors covering multiple genres (some of which are different from genres that we give the same name) over thousands of years. Things like context and how a passage reads in light Jesus matter significantly. We ought to sincerely study scripture and not just prooftext our way through life. And it should not be done in isolation. You and I must talk about what scripture means with others; including those with whom we disagree. Interpreting scripture is a community project that has been going on for thousands of years.
Yet in that study, we will find that there are commands, admonitions, and prayers that can be of great aid to us. Even more so, there are stories upon stories about people who strove to follow God. We can learn from their successes and failures. And bringing it all back home, it is in our scripture that we see the life of Jesus: the one who shows us most clearly what God is like and how we ought to live.
Lent is often compared to a season out in the wilderness. Truth of the matter is, all of life is a wilderness experience and we need a guide. Fortunately the one we follow points to a book that can help us as we journey through the wild. It is a difficult book, but it is helpful. In fact, the struggle might make it even more helpful. But that might be another rabbit to chase another time.