"The temptation for this Sunday and the next several Sundays will be to omit readings and/or to shorten the lengthy gospel readings. Resist that temptation. These are the church's stories. They are not yours to dismiss because they are inconvenient and invade the time concerns you have. When you entered the covenant of ordained as deacons and elders or when you signed your paperwork as a local pastor or pastor from another denomination, you affirmed that you were persuaded 'that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation' and you promised loyalty to The United Methodist Church, 'accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline . . .' (United Methodist Book of Worship, 689, 695). Therefore, read the entirety of these readings out of your persuasion and your acceptance of the liturgy, trusting the Spirit of God to do what God wants to do in the hearts of the people."
- Taylor Burton-Edwards,
Director of Worship Resources for the
General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church
"...the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, 'Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.'
"Jesus replied, 'It's written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.'
"After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 'Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.'
"Jesus replied, 'Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.'
"Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, 'I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.'
"Jesus responded, 'Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him."
One of my favorite Lenten practices is watching a few of the several movies made about Jesus. We are blessed to have so many films at our disposal thanks to DVDs, Netflix, and TV cable offerings.
One of my favorite Biblical films is 1965's The Greatest Story Ever Told. Not a critical success and a bit dragging in parts, this movie nevertheless has one of the best portrayals of the devil ever portrayed on film. British screen legend Donald Pleasence plays the devil as a hermit who seems almost an "everyman" figure. He is polite, soft-spoken, and seemingly kind...which makes this performance absolutely terrifying.
Were the devil to appear to me in all his dread - surrounded by flames, holding a pitchfork, hooves and tail apparent - I might be a bit frightened but not fooled. In Pleasence's hands, the devil becomes a figure easy to sit with, converse with, even befriend.
This is the devil of Matthew 4. He's not some monster from a Hammer horror film; he's not some superhuman demon from the infernal pits; he is...well, he's us. This is what makes the account of the temptation of Jesus so real.
Jesus may be tested by the offer of big dreams, but they are camouflaged by the commonplace, the ordinary, the everyday. What tests us are not typically outrageous schemes, but familiar, mundane habits - perhaps even with the approval or encouragement of an unbelieving world - which appear to be harmless but in actuality may have devastating effects on our souls, our witness for Christ or on those around us.
As we embark on the holy season of Lent, my prayer is that disciples of Jesus across the world are able to reflect not simply on the large issues of life, activism, and service, but also on the banal, the routine, the daily habits which prevent us from moving forward in holiness and in faithfulness to our crucified and risen Lord.