Sunday, March 6, 2022
By: Kilpy Singer, Director of Youth Ministries
Whenever you get married, people share lots of advice. One of the first pieces of advice my mom gave my husband was, “Now, you always need to have a snack with you in case Kilpy has a meltdown.” If Blake were here, he’d tell you that this was some truly sound advice. To keep my blood sugar regular, I need frequent snacks or else I become quite “hangry”, or the mix of hungry and angry.
So, knowing this about myself, my first thought when I read over our Gospel passage today was “Man, the Devil really knew what he was doing.” Jesus has just gone 40 days without any food and, understandably, might have been a bit hangry himself. Then, the devil shows up and pounds him with all sorts of challenging and enticing temptations.
I’d say that’s pretty smart timing. None of us are our best selves when we are starving. And not only was Jesus hungry for food, famished after weeks of fasting, but he must have been hungry in so many other ways.
He had just spent 40 days in the wilderness. Can you imagine? It may not have been a desert, but it would have certainly been deserted. Lonely. Isolating. Down right desolate and maybe even depressing.
Jesus, that truly human part of him, must have been hungry. And the Devil tries to take advantage, tempting him three times. Show your power, turn this stone to bread. Worship me and I’ll give you everything and more, all the glory you could ever want. Throw yourself down, and let God catch you, unless you don’t think He’ll show up.
The devil’s temptations point right to the hunger of humanity. Our hunger for things other than God. For power, glory, certainty, independence. We have all been out wandering in the wilderness recently, for more reasons than one. I’m not sure I even need to name them, because yall know. We are no strangers to the experience of isolation. We are not so unfamiliar with spending days and weeks and months and years in our own landscapes of loneliness and desolation. And we are hungry. Hangry, even. We’ve been stripped down, emptied out, tempted and tried, and left with an empty stomach.
And we might be just hungry enough to give in. Unlike Jesus, who, let me remind you, was the blameless Son of God, we don’t always have the strength within us to resist. Sometimes we are hungry enough and human enough to fail. The wilderness has made us grow so weary that we are tempted to give into our hunger and feast on power, greed, and glory. We’ll do anything, just to be full, just to feel something good again.
But that’s nothing new. God’s people have been messing up for a long time.
It’s actually right here in this passage. Did you notice Jesus’ responses to the devil? They’re quotations from scripture. Jesus, he responded with sections from Deuteronomy. They point back to the story of the Israelites, a people who had their own wilderness experience. 40 years of it. Do you remember their story? They too were tempted and tried, isolated and hungry and certainly did not come out with perfect marks. Starving and tired, they sometimes chose to fill themselves up with things other than God.
But the Deuteronomy passages, they don’t simply recall their faults. Because the portions Jesus recites are from God’s covenant with the Israelites. God is speaking to them through Moses just before they cross over into the Promised Land. And despite their failures, their brokenness, the times they chose things other than God, God doesn’t give up on them. In his mercy, he brings them to a new home and into a renewed relationship with him.
When faced with his own temptation, Jesus calls upon this, the covenantal words between God and his people. He points back to the Israelites’ pain, but also to God’s provision. It’s as if he’s saying, “Look, Devil. Don’t you remember how this goes? You think you can win people over, just because they’re a little hungry. But your temptations have no real power. God’s mercy is greater than the brokenness of his people. This always has and always will be true.”
Did this keep the devil from trying? Certainly not. We continue to face temptations all the time. We are constantly tempted to satisfy our hunger with things other than God. We are no stranger to the wilderness and the things that it can make us do. But God is no stranger to mercy. There is not one without the other. And this passage, and the story of the Israelites, reminds us of that. It reminds us that it has always been in our nature to sin, and that it has always been in God’s nature to forgive.
Remembering this gets to the very core of Lent, the season we’ve just begun. These 40 days can so easily feel like a chance for a fresh spiritual start or a chance to finally get right with God. But our practices, the things we give up, aren’t meant to give us a sense of accomplishment. Instead, they lead us to that familiar place of hunger. And when our stomachs grumble, we hear the grumblings of all God’s hungry people before us. We remember what it is to need God, but to still choose those things other than God. And we confess that, and we repent, and we can do all of this with boldness because we remember that, through Christ, we are grafted into the great story of God’s forgiveness.
So for these 40 days, we intentionally look backwards and inwards. We remember the wilderness, and we remember the hunger, and we remember the sin. And we can allow ourselves to be honest about our human nature, because as Jesus once reminded the devil and as we remember today, it has always been God’s nature to have mercy.
It’s written right here, at the very beginning of our liturgy. The first thing we said was “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins! His mercy endures forever.” May this be our Lenten hymn, that our wrongs don’t define us. God’s mercy does. Nothing and nobody will ever have the power to change it. Amen.