Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wilderness temptation

Grand Canyon wilderness
Sunday Morning. Hallelujah, schoener Morgen, Heute muss Ich nicht besorgen! We used to intone this perversion of a familiar German hymn (Halleluiah, what a morning, I don’t have to help with the chores today!) We still have some of those feelings. Sunday relieves us of our obligations for a short time. Ironically, on dairy farms that surrounded me when I was a kid, Sunday chores looked a lot like the chores of any other morning.

Our Sunday School discussion will focus on Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Dorothy Jean Weaver wrote the student book, I wrote the teacher’s manual and my friend E.T. will guide the discussion. The discourse will likely run the usual course, namely that the story illustrates Jesus’ temptations to chuck his messianic mission in favour of an easier road to power, self-gratification or personal comfort. If it stays there, however, it will miss an important other aspect: the legend of the wilderness temptation is a teaching parable, and we do well to interpret it more personally.

Take the temptation to turn stones into bread. Taking shortcuts to ensure that we in the West will always have food security—indeed the right to gluttony—is illustrated by this wilderness temptation. We have put our faith in chemicals, artificial fertilizers and technologies to such a degree that we are poisoning our environment in the interest of profits and food security while much of the world starves.

Take the temptation to hurl oneself off the pinnacle of the temple in a show of magic and the favour of God and His angels. The US went into Iraq with the “shock and awe” slogan and the prayers that God should “bless America.” While the citizenry cheered—especially the right wing of the Christian Church—the administration and the military “hurled themselves from the pinnacle of the temple” in a show of might and God’s favour. This will turn out to have been an evanescent dream; the evidence is there before us already.

And then there’s the worship of Satan as a route to ultimate power. Much of Christianity doesn’t get Satan as a mythological stand-in for the evil that all of us humans are capable of. At the root of much of our temptation is not a literal “worshipping of the devil,” but a very human “love of money,” and we are currently living through a depression whose very root is that evil, the worship of that “Satan.” It certainly grants power, this obeisance to that demon, but it is, in the end, a power founded on an evil preoccupation. This temptation is very strong and tests all of us one way and another. Our government has currently told us that “the economy is people’s main concern now,” not the environment or the Afghani detainees, one might add.

Matthew’s parable of the temptation is not actually about Jesus, it’s about you and me.

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