Matthew 4: 1-11
I like to repeat that we live in a complex world. Very often we struggle to understand decisions that have a real impact on our lives. Why does the price of gas suddenly increase by 5 cents, a large company that makes profits still lay off 5,000 employees or one drug is covered by our health care plan but not another? We do not know for sure. Those decisions are usually made by faceless managers or corporations that are sometimes completely disconnected from our reality. No wonders we seem to be attracted these days by some sort of champions who hold simple discourses and present easy solutions to all our problems. In exchange of our votes, they claim they will defend our rights and shake up the system. Sometimes we believed in their 3 simple steps to save us all. When elected, they come back to us to say, ‘Who knew running a country is so complicated?” No really! You don’t say!
I do not want to disappoint you, but Church people are usually not better. We also can be seduced by shortcuts. How many times have we heard congregations saying, ‘to attract the younger families we desperately need for the survival of our church, we need to call a young minister”? Would we believe it is such a great idea if banks told us, ‘To attract younger families, our plan is to hire only younger bankers.’ In the same way, today is the first Sunday in Lent and probably you were asked what you are giving up this year: chocolate, coffee or smoking… If there is not wrong with this (and maybe actually good for our health), do we really believe this little deprivation would make a huge difference in the big cosmic order of things? Are we just trying to find some sort of pacifiers to ease our conscience or convinced ourselves we are not that bad? You know… I may tell racist jokes here and there, follow questionable business practices at the office or occasionally lie to my spouse and my best friends, but since I gave up Facebook for 40 days I guess I am okay. Sometimes, we let those shortcuts and easy solutions distract us from the real issues to the point we forget who we are, what are our values and what is our call in this world.
Take Jesus, for example. In today’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, we find him in the wilderness. After 40 days and 40 nights of fast, the devil comes to tempt him. Most people have this vision of Jesus saying, “No, no, do not tempt me to do something I would never do otherwise. Go away Satan!” We might like this idea, but when we look at the text the situation a little more complex. First Jesus is invited to turn stones into loaves of bread. Well… Later in his ministry, Jesus took 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and multiplied them so he could nourish a very large crowd. Today, as we are constantly surrounded by poor people, we wish we could have more loaves of bread to feed the hungry. Then Jesus is asked to do something totally reckless and to trust God. ‘Throw yourself down the temple and do not worry because God will send angels to protect you.’ As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we have to admit he did reckless stuff, like openly challenging the religious and political authorities of his time and even on his way to the cross he kept trusting God. Today, as we are asked to make bold decisions and take chances, we often repeat that we have to trust in God. Finally, Jesus is brought to a very high mountain and he is offered to rule over all the kingdoms and countries of the world. This did not really happen during Jesus’ lifetime, but at the end of Matthew’s gospel we can find the Great Commissioning. “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Today, if we cannot claim that everyone, in every country, is a Christian, at least all have heard about Jesus and his message, and we sometimes wish our leaders would read their bibles a little more often.
Jesus is confronted to three timeless problems of humanity: economics, religion and politics. Those of us who want to change and improve this world are sometimes wondering why did Jesus not use all his powers to materialize this kingdom of God of his? After all, what is the point to be the son of God if one cannot correct what is wrong in a simple snap of fingers? What is the point for us to believe in a Messiah that does not seem to be able to deliver on his promises? Why do you still have to wait for this realm of God promised to us more than 2,000 years ago?
Well… maybe this is exactly where lies the real test for Jesus and every one of us. As Jesus prepared himself for his ministry, as we are invited to prepare ourselves to walk a path of discipleship during Lent, we reminded that the point of all of this is not to put a check beside items of a list of good deeds, find a restriction that will absolve us for our wrongdoings or boast on Twitter by writing, “Satan tried to tempt me with lamed offers. What a loser. #Fail”. The test is to resist our desires for quick results, short-lived success and the total fulfilment our needs at the expense of others. The real test is to resist the temptation to believe that following Jesus and a life of discipleship is easy task govern by simplistic answers. Let’s make no mistake here. Discipleship is difficult. We are called to be actively involved in our world. Sometimes it means to roll our sleeves and get our hands dirty with hard work. Sometimes it requires to denounce our democratically elected government or leaders who promote intolerance or two-tier justice. Sometimes it demands to go against popular policies and practices that maintain injustice and inequality in our society. Sometimes it forces us to become more aware of our choice and to stop consuming beloved products that hurt our planet. Most often, the worst part of it, is that no one will notice our actions. No one will erect a statue for us, throw a parade or give us an award. No one will acknowledge the good work we have done. Nevertheless, we will know that we have contributed our little brick to the construction of a better world. We will know we have tried our best, gave everything we could and follow the call God issues to each and every one of us.
In the wilderness, Jesus refuses to use his power in self-gratifying ways or to be influenced by concerns of practical interests or quick results. Today we are called to follow in his footsteps. When it comes to economics, politics and especially faith and spirituality, we are asked to accomplish our ministries without taking a shortcut or looking for easy solutions. It might be difficult or frustrating at times, but invited to do the right things, at the right pace, for the right reasons. Amen.