Year C, Lent 1 Luke 4:1-13
When I was in my early 20’s one of my brothers thought it would be fun to go sky diving together. It sounded like an adventure, so I said yes. The first time you go sky diving, you are required to go tandem. This means there is someone on your back who has some sky diving expertise. They can help steer you to the correct landing and also pull the cord if you forget. I was really glad I had this person with me, because I did not have the presence of mind to pull the cord. I am not sure I would have jumped had he not been with me. All in all it was a good experience. I am glad I did it, but will probably never be tempted to do it again.
We all know the story of Jesus’ temptation. It is in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We begin every Lent with a temptation story. Today, I am not going to talk about temptation in general, but specifically one of the tests that the devil gave to Jesus. There were three tests. In the first, the devil asked a very hungry Jesus to change stones into bread. Jesus quoted scripture and refused. The second was an offer to provide Jesus ultimate power if he would only worship the devil. Jesus refused and again provided scripture. The third is the one I would like to focus on. The devil asked Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple. This time the devil quoted scripture to support his request. He quoted Psalm 91, which we just chanted together. If Jesus really was the Son of God, then surely the angels would catch him.
We all know that Jesus could have easily turned the stone into bread. Later in his ministry he fed thousands with only five loaves of bread. As far as the second test, he didn’t need to worship the devil to have power. He already had the authority that the devil was offering. He simply chose to wield it in a different way. Finally, he could have called on an army of angels to catch him, but he decided that instead he would fall as any human falls. He would live as any human lives. He would die as any human dies.
What the devil was offering was a risk free life and ministry, one that would not involve potential failure….a path that would be much easier than the one that Jesus chose. Assuming that Jesus knew he would be crucified in three years, I would imagine this would be the greatest temptation. Who would not want a risk free life? It reminds me of a quote that I occasionally see: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” I find that question both inspiring and ridiculous. It’s wonderful to consider the possibilities—of what we could do. However if all we do is consider what could be done if success was guaranteed, then we would not learn how to fail.
One of my favorite poets is: Rainer Rilke. One of his poems reads:
This is what life can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
That is less likely to end up on a motivational poster, but it seems more appropriate to me. Nobody wants to fail. Nobody starts the New Year by making a resolution that they will fail more this year. There were a lot of moments when it seemed to many that Jesus had failed. He didn’t free the Jewish people from their Roman oppressors. He did not endear himself to most of the religious leaders. He was betrayed, denied and deserted by the 12 people he chose to be his followers. When he was put on trial, the people chose a common criminal (Barabbas) to free instead of him. In the end he was killed in a humiliating way. He was resurrected, but he didn’t do it in a very public way. Most people didn’t even know it happened. To this day many people consider him a failure if they can even admit that he existed at all. That isn’t a very impressive track record for someone we consider to be God in the flesh.
Jesus chose to live as a human. He refused to take the easy way out; the method that the devil offered. He did that so he could be an example for all of us mere humans. We cannot call on angels to catch us–but we make a choice every day whether we will take the easy way or the hard way; whether we will risk our own comfort and happiness so we can be Disciples of Christ or whether we play it safe and be disciples of the path of least resistance.
I read that when a bird learns to fly, they sometimes fall to the ground. Yet their mother will always be close by protecting the baby bird from predators, doing its best to keep the bird safe. Yet the mother can’t keep the baby from falling. It has to fall in order to fly.
When I participated in tandem skydiving, I knew that if something really bad happened, the guy on my back would not be able to save me. He probably wouldn’t even break the fall. Yet I also knew that he was going to do everything in his power to keep me safe. We were in this together. God is like the mother bird, always watching and doing all he can to protect us. In some ways life as a disciple of Christ is like tandem sky diving. It is full of risk and the only way to experience life is to take those risks and be willing to fall. However, God is with us the whole way sharing in the agony of defeat and the joy of success.
I challenge you this Lent to consider taking some risks and being open to failure. Like the poet said, “Trust your own heaviness.” If you take a leap of faith, you are going to fall at some point. It’s inevitable. But it’s not the end. The heart of the Christian message is resurrection. Even crucifixion only kept Jesus down for 3 days. Perhaps instead of asking, “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”—we would ask, “What would you attempt if you knew that failure was temporary and every failure provided a new beginning?”