From the Gospel of Mark heard on the First Sunday of Lent:
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.
Jesus was tempted. Sometimes it may be difficult for us, with our binary brains, separating everything into one side or the other, to fully hold and understand Jesus’ full humanity along with his full divinity. As a result, understanding Jesus subject to truly difficult temptation can be a challenge.
Recently I was in Baltimore for the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and I heard James Martin, SJ speaking about Jesus humanity, as he often does. Jesus, Fr. Martin reminded us, felt all the things that we feel, from nausea to annoyance, from exhaustion to being achy, and everything in between. Those are my words, not his, but you get the idea. Today we are clearly reminded of Jesus’ human state in the Gospel, but can we resist the temptation to dismiss Jesus’ full humanity?
It is important to hold on to the humanity of Jesus, it is vital to our faith. The Risen Jesus is the point, yes, but the Risen divine Christ without the human tempted, suffering Christ misses the essential part of the point. The photos on above and below this paragraphy help to make this point – and remind us that we all belong to Christ, even everyone who annoys you. (I found these two fantastic images on the site, Matt Jones Pottery. I am using them giving him full credit for his work, and asking for his permission. If I have to take them down, please go look at his page and at his work!
Temptation is everywhere. Sometimes Catholics and other religious people tend to (binary brain alert!) want to make it all about sex and that pesky secular society that we inhabit. It must be the women/the progressives/the gays/the sex soaked and liar filled media/etc etc that are the problem. Maybe the problem is really ourselves. I’m not so quick to take that route myself, for what its worth. That’s too facile, blaming sex and our awful secular culture for all of our ills. “If only… fill-in-the-blannThat’s the kind of immature pseudo-theology that drives us into our churches and “private” groups, where we can shut the doors and turn away from the very things that God redirects our attention to over and over and over.
Mark, in his Gospel does not go into the same detail that Matthew and Luke do in theirs. We hear about more specifics in Luke, and also in Matthew. as the very things that tempt us, are offered to Jesus. Satan is ready to give Jesus food, then dangles power before him, and then asks Jesus to prove himself by taking a flying leap. Jesus was indeed tempted by these specific things, ones that often undo us.
Personally, I think that we miss a lot of opportunity – and I include myself in that we – because we sometimes focus on the wrong things when we worry about temptation. Whether we are driven to overly pious practices of self-mortification, or we miss the connection of our our giving up something as part of a larger picture, we run that risk. This is reason alone for our annual Lenten journey… we must keep at it, year after year. A pilgrim people we are, and the road stretches out before us always; at Lent, and on every other day as well. However, Lent offers us a specific period of time that leads us to Easter.
At the same time, we run another risk altogether every time we attempt to water down temptation, or dismiss it entirely. It’s easy to laugh off temptation and believe in the idea that we can (or should!) “have it all.”
What tempts us to avoid God’s invitation to this pilgrim journey by not fully entering into Lent? I’ll start with this thought… We are members of the Body of Christ, called always into metamorphic levels of change. Yet, whether we know it or not, most of us loathe change with every fiber of our being. There are many stumbling blocks that are in our way, from plain old convenience to full on avoidance. It might help to clarify at least a little bit of what gets in our way. And that may be much more fruitful than self-mortification for its own sake.
Even though we are “allowed” to take Sundays “off” during Lent, let’s use today’s Gospel as an invitation to dive more deeply into the season this week. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves… I’ll be asking myself, and I hope that you will be asking too. Thanks for joining me on this journey. (These questions are for you, but if you wish to share in the comments, please feel free to do so.)
- What makes us cringe when we imagine Jesus’ full-on humanity?
- What makes us want to avoid real change?
- What makes us want to put on the hairshirt? Is it to avoid what God really gives us?
- What is the thing we most wish to avoid and why? Be specific.