“Turn these stones to bread.”
“Worship me to gain power over the kingdoms of this world.”
“Fall from the pinnacle so we can all watch the angels swoop in and rescue you.”
These are the temptations the devil throws out to Jesus in the wilderness. They are temptations about power: to control the natural world, to control the people of the world, to control God. How much ego would someone have to have to give in to these temptations?
During a political season, it’s not hard to find examples of people who have given in to the temptations of ego. Any day of the week you can hear a news story about a candidate claiming unreasonable powers; you can see candidates bowing down to various and sundry devils in an attempt to gain power over the kingdom of the United States; you can cringe as one candidate after another tries to prove that God is on their side.
“Take what you want.”
“Set your integrity aside to gain power over people.”
“Show us that God loves you best.”
These are temptations of ego. Temptations that are easy to fall into for those who believe that they truly are special, that the rules don’t apply to them, that God really does love them best.
Yes. These are temptations of ego. Unless . . . Unless we pay closer attention to the way the devil introduces the first and third temptations: “If you are the son of God . . .”.
That little pesky word “if.” “If” doesn’t play so much to the ego as to the insecurities. “If” is a claim that we have to prove ourselves, prove our worth, prove that God loves us. “If” is not born out of ego, but out of fear that we are not enough.
“If you are a child of God . . .”
But we can’t even prove that we are children of God. We are. Of course we are. But it’s not something we can prove. Jesus was able to resist the devil’s temptations because he didn’t feel the need to prove his identity. He didn’t fall prey to the lure of the “if.”
There is a Jewish saying that I think about often. It is attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pschischa:
Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need.
When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”
But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”
“For my sake the world was created.”
“I am but dust and ashes.”
In the end, of course, both are true.
During Lent, we remember that we are ashes. Then we wash the smudges off of our foreheads and get on with doing the work God calls us to do and living the life God calls us to live.
And when we hear the voice chiding, “If you are a child of God,” we claim our identity as beloved children and watch the devil slink away.
This post is excerpted from the sermon I preached on February 14, 2016.