March 5, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent
‘DESERT SPIRITUALITY’

BIBLE READINGS
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-8

Matthew 4:1-11

REFLECTION

Richard Robles was a seasoned robber. He had been jailed for many years for the many robberies that he did to support his drug addiction.

When he went out of jail, however, he wanted to turn his life around. But, life was not easy on him and he soon once again desperately needed money this time to support his girlfriend and his three-year-old daughter. So, he decided to do one more robbery and told himself that this would be the last one.

He broke into an apartment in an expensive area in New York City, hoping that the apartment would be empty. To his surprise, the occupants were there. So he threatened them with a knife and tied them up.

As he was about to leave the apartment, one of the occupants said that he would not get away with this crime and she would help the police to track him down. Immediately Richard lost control of himself. Instead of leaving the apartment with his loot, he cold-bloodedly killed the two occupants in rage.

Looking back to that moment, twenty five years later in jail, he lamented making that split second decision to kill the two women. “I just went bananas,” he said, “My head just exploded.”[1]

Friends, life can lead us to that place of wilderness; the metaphorical desert; the situation where we are at our most vulnerable point with no resources to hold on to. Often, when we are there, somehow life forces us to make difficult decision. It is easier to make the right choice when everything is smooth sailing. But, life often throws us into a deep pit first and only after we hit rock bottom that we are asked to choose. That’s the point when we are often tempted to do the wrong thing.

Jesus too was tempted when he was at his most vulnerable moment. He had been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, which was a Hebrew way of saying a very long time. The Devil attacked him when he was at his weakest point.

But, “What about Adam?” some of us may ask. He was not tempted in a desert. In our reading in Genesis, he was tempted in the most beautiful and bountiful garden in the world.

Yes, it’s true that he was tempted in the Garden of Eden, but he too was tempted at his most vulnerable moment.

Now, our reading in Genesis fits the dominant patriarchal narrative that often blames women for everything. Indeed, the reading has often been used as a justification to hold such view.

Does it not sound familiar? Does it not sound like people today blaming rape victims for the rape because they dress too provocatively? Does it not sound like people today blaming victims of domestic violence because they shout to their husbands?

So, it may be true that the storyteller of our reading in Genesis may have this patriarchal mindset, but we can see the reading from a different angle.

Previously, in Genesis, we are told that Adam was alone in the garden. He had no suitable companion and the animals couldn’t fulfill his deepest need. So, God created a woman from his own ribs. And, Adam was so smitten by God’s creation that he said these poetic words:

            “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”[2]

But, the one whom he called as his own bone and flesh was the one who also played a part in his fall. The woman offered him the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.

How could he refuse? This was the ‘bone of his bones’ and ‘flesh of his flesh’ who gave him the fruit. Indeed, if it is a stranger who tempts us, we may still have the strength and courage to refuse. But, if it is someone that we love, someone that we care deeply, someone what we know well who tempts us, the temptation will be exponentially harder to refuse.

So, are we doomed? Are we destined to always make the wrong decision whenever we are under pressure?

Thank God, we are not. Jesus’ response when he was tempted in the desert gives us the model to follow during our own temptation; during our own experience in the desert.

First of all, Jesus made decisions based not on his human desire, but on principles. The Devil appealed to self-interest, but Jesus always responded with principles he found in the Hebrew Scriptures.[3] The words of the Hebrew Scriptures became the foundation of his counter-argument against the Devils’ temptation.

Second, Jesus saw the big picture. His view was not short-term, but long-term. He knew that his decision would have far-reaching consequences. He knew that his decision would affect his decision later in the Garden of Gethsemane when he had to choose whether to take the way of the cross or not. He knew that he would not choose the way of the cross if he gave in to the Devil in the desert. He knew that the salvation of the world hung in the balance in that moment in the desert.

These, I believe, were the reasons why Jesus managed to ward-off the Devil’s attack. These were the reasons why you and me are here today to worship Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. His way of dealing with temptation is a model for us to follow when we too face our temptation at our weakest moment.

So, next time when life takes us to a deserted place, don’t lose hope. We can learn from Jesus. And, perhaps, we are there for a reason. Perhaps, it tells us about something that we need to fix in our life. Perhaps, it’s the time that we need to reorient our life so that it is more aligned to what God intends us to be or to do.

But, don’t stay in the desert forever. Jesus stayed there for a long time. But, he didn’t stay there forever. Soon, he returned to the place where he was called to be: the world. Soon, he returned to the real world, this time with a new perspective. Yes, he returned to the real world as a new man because he went to hell and back.

May the same can be said of us. Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury (Chapter 2)

[2] Genesis 2:18-24 (New Revised Standard Version)

[3] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFusion Lent.Easter 2017 (March 5, 2017), p. 26