March 10, 2019
Reading 1: Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Psalm: 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Reading 2: Romans 10: 8-13
Gospel: Luke 4: 1-13
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be my name;
my kingdom come;
my will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the daily prayer of my five-year-old son, who habitually swaps the more familiar “my” for the archaic possessive pronoun “thy.” His everyday experience even now teaches him that he does not possess the power of God. I trust that he will eventually work out the words of the prayer too. Yet I know that he will still struggle with “my kingdom come, my will be done” in the living of his life even if this desire is announced less frequently in the language of his prayers. I know this because this same struggle happens to me—and to everyone I know who shares the human condition. It happened to Jesus after his baptism.
This temptation to promote our own will above all else accompanies us throughout our lives, perhaps more subtly when we are at our best and more obviously when we are operating at our worst. There are situations where our will and God’s will are clearly out of alignment, which is how my small son currently understands temptation—i.e., “when we want to do things that are bad.” But there are also many situations where what we want and thus what might become a temptation for us is genuinely good—rooted in some way in a desire for God or the things of God which are by definition good. It is good for people to eat when they are hungry, to lead responsibly, and to be reassured that God will go to great lengths to care for them. But some good things can distract us from other good things. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis’s fictional demon Screwtape capitalizes on this insight when giving advice to his nephew Wormwood, who is new to the tempting business: “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground. . . . [God] made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy [God] has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which [God] has forbidden. ”
We who have been baptized are filled with the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was when he faced temptation. We are conformed to Christ in his mission and ministry and most of all in his dying and rising. Our claim as a son or daughter of God is already secure. How can we use the prayerful preparation of the Lenten season to become more ready to discern the will of God in situations where God’s will and our will might conflict? How might God be calling us to respond the next time we find ourselves in a situation where our hungers are unsatisfied, where the power and glory we think we deserve eludes us, or when we could seize easy opportunities to “prove” our worth to others or to ourselves?
The last temptation detailed in Luke’s account also suggests that doing my will could have communal consequences insofar as my actions might distract others from doing whatever is God’s will for them in that moment. Even in situations where we are gathered to worship God, we are not immune from making spectacles of ourselves in ways that might serve our own short-term needs more than the greater glory of God. What helps us—and those around us—to worship God well? What gets in the way, and what might we do more of or less of such that how we as individuals might prefer to worship God does not distract us or others from actually worshipping God as the communion of Christ’s body, the Church?
Lent is the season of the Church’s year where the face of the repentant Church becomes more visible. We are more profoundly aware that we have the support of a community to challenge our individual and collective temptations and sins and to cheer us toward and celebrate our conversion. In our worship, we come together with an unlikely bunch of associates (who could only have been called together by the leading of the Holy Spirit). The word of Scripture is near to us, reminding us of what God has already done for us and for our ancestors in faith. The word of faith is preached to us. We confess our faith with our mouths, some weeks from the fullness of our hearts and other weeks hoping our hearts might follow while the belief of others helps bolster our own. We call upon God’s name for our own needs and the needs of our world. We set what we have been given by God before the altar of God. Our hungers are filled not with ordinary bread, but with the bread of life that is our communion in Christ’s body and blood. We go forth to share the good news that God is with us. Our lives—temptations and all—can be transformed by our relationship with God as “my will be done” and “thy will be done” converge more closely.
Assistant Professor of Liturgy