I - 2008
Temptations, Eight Millennium goals
Barrens" in Nova Scotia are beautiful but formidable. Whether one
looks over the barrens at West Dover near Peggy's Cove, or the Barrens in
the Cape Breton Highlands, you are struck by the stark wonder they
possess. They are not dwelling places for the unprepared. The Barrens in
the North Highlands contain emergency shelters for those who may become
caught there unprepared. A Nova Scotia government website describes the
ecosystem of our barrens as follows: "Barrens are essentially
impoverished habitats, with low nutrient availability and low floral
diversity, offering a comparatively small number of niches."
is life in the barrens. It's not readily visible to the untrained eye.
It's life that is tenacious, that literally clings to the rocks and crags.
I wonder what spending over a month in one of the barren areas of the
province would require? The mere question takes some of the churchly
romance out of our understanding of Jesus 40 days in the Judean
wilderness. The desert that Jesus sojourned in bears similarities to the
barrens. The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary defines a desert as
"a dry barren area of land, often sand covered, characteristically
desolate, with little fresh water and scanty vegetation." There are
differences between the two geographic areas for sure. But we get the
picture by comparison. It was in a dry and barren land that Jesus prepared
himself for bringing the message about renewal of human community.
would he choose to go into such a desolate place as part of his formation?
There are a couple of reasons. The place was free from the pull and
distractions of the social setting he would return to work in.
Conversations, parables, debates and controversy will come later. It was
in the wilderness that he would have time to focus and prepare for dealing
with these in an effective way. Secondly, the kind of life found in the
wilderness is a reminder of both the wonder and tenacity of life and our
vulnerability within the created order. His ancestors had experienced this
during their wandering in the desert centuries before. They discovered
that without the bread from heaven and the water from the rock they would
not survive physically. They discovered that without the leadership of
Moses they would not survive socially. They discovered that without the
gift of the law they would not survive spiritually. In the desert they
began to understand the importance of each of these elements within their
covenant relationship with God. Jesus repeats this exercise for himself as
he prepares to bring a message of covenant renewal. Like his ancestors of
centuries past, he is tempted externally and internally. Here we see the
classical role of Satan in Hebrew scripture, to tempt in the sense of sift
and sort and demand choice. Any number of theologians can be cited who
understand that the temptations of Jesus are temptations that challenge
his relationship to God the Father in covenant Love. [Raymond Brown. An
introduction to the New Testament. The Anchor Bible Reference Library.
Doubleday, 1996. p.177].
think what is most interesting about the temptations is how powerful they
are. For example, according to Matthew the first temptation placed before
Jesus is to turn stones into bread. I recall a presentation at a clergy
gathering when I served in Western Newfoundland. The facilitator brought
in some stones from the wilderness. She pointed out how much the stones
resembled loaves of bread in their shape and color. What a powerful
temptation to place before someone who is "famished". What a
powerful temptation to place before someone who is passionate about the
hunger of others. Jesus rejects Satan's temptation. Bread alone is not
enough. However, he would later perform the miracle of loaves and fishes.
It's a miracle that is so important that it is recorded in all four
gospels-in one of the Gospels it's recorded twice! We do not live by bread
alone. But, Jesus feeds people, describes himself as the bread of life,
grounds his memory and presence in a meal of bread and wine, and makes
feeding the hungry a standard by which we will be judged in terms of our
own moral stewardship. He will respond clearly and decisively to the
misunderstanding and controversy that the loaves and fishes miracle
created for some. There is little doubt that the temptation of stones for
bread gave Jesus focus and perspective. The complex nature of the
temptation surfaces with reflection. Something similar can be said of the
other two temptations.
fails to drive a wedge between heaven and earth, fails in having Jesus
make false choices between one and the other. Jesus leaves behind a
geographic environment where life vulnerable. He emerges clear and focused
with regard to God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. He
re-enters a society where the moral life, (described in the scripture by
such terms as justice, righteousness, peace) is equally vulnerable. Being
aware of a dependence on God is equally crucial if the kingdom is to be a
reality. The temptations of Christ in the wilderness formed him for
ministry in the world.
is a time when the church calls us to prepare ourselves for renewing our
baptismal covenant. The renewal intended is not merely the reciting of
words but the renewal of our lives. I'd like to suggest that wrestling
with the United Nations Millennium Goals over the next four Sundays in
Lent provides an opportunity for us to better understand how God will, as
the prayer after communion says, "Lead us in the path of Christ, who
is the word of Life."
are eight Millennium Goals. [See Sunday Leaflet for
Feb.10th]. We will
have opportunity to set them along side the encounters described in the
Gospels over the next four Sundays.
conversations are rich and layered. We meet Nicodemus, The Samaritan
woman, the blind man, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus. We will
hear again cutting edge conversation. -conversation enables us to connect
our faith to our world. These encounters help us understand how to better
seek and serve Christ, love our neighbor, and respect human dignity.
may not be able to take this exercise out into the wilds of Nova Scotia
(perhaps); but I encourage you to find time and place to ponder what we
read and hear. There are three temptations. There are eight Millennium
Goals. The common ground between them is the call to discernment and
formation with regard to our covenant with God and with our neighbors in
the global village.