In last week’s Gospel we read how the devil attacked Jesus in what arguably could be thought of as one of the hardest times in Jesus’ life … when Jesus was in the desert and tempted over and over and over again by the devil. This week’s Gospel, however, shows us how the devil also tries to take advantage of us in moments of strength. That may seem a bit odd? Why would the devil try to take advantage of us in moments of strength?
Consider what happened in today’s Gospel. Jesus is clearly in a position of power. He’s performing miracles and casting out demons—all signs pointing back to him as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He has followers all around him witnessing these signs. And then a group of Pharisees enter the scene.
I’d like to offer a word of caution – as Christians reading the Gospels, we tend to go into automatic pilot when we think about the Pharisees. We tend to read or hear the term Pharisee and we immediately think “watch out, these are the bad guys.” But listen to this verse very carefully from Luke. “Get away from here,” the Pharisees say, “for Herod wants to kill you.”
Does that sound like the words of people who are actively opposed to Jesus? The fact is; we might read and understand that warning in a couple of different ways—and in so doing come to very different conclusions depending upon how we read and understand them. There’s a chance that this particular warning might have been one of genuine concern for Jesus’ safety?
And how does Jesus respond? He says,
“Go and tell that fox, Herod:Luke 13: 32-33
‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow,
and the third day I complete my mission.
Nevertheless I must go on my way
today and tomorrow and the next day,
for it can’t be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem.’”
These aren’t the words of someone who is intimidated by Herod’s power; these are the words of someone who understands his own power. They are also the words of someone who knows he is on a mission and refuses to be distracted or dissuaded from that mission.
However — and this is what we need to understand here —this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees and indirectly between Jesus and Herod is one of subtle temptation that is coming at a moment of great power for Jesus. As I said, this is not the same situation as we found in last week’s Gospel when Jesus was in the wilderness with the devil. Jesus is not in a physically or emotionally weakened condition. He is approaching the height of his power in his ministry. He has thousands of followers.
And therein lies the source of the devil’s temptation of Jesus. The devil approaches Jesus at a moment of great power; a moment of great dedication; he does this not directly but through the voices of the Pharisees. It’s the devil at work again saying to Jesus:
”You’re in danger Jesus! Abandon this ministry! Run to safety! Get out of this place! If you continue on this path, you will die!”
But Jesus was not about to be dissuaded from his path. AND he knew what following his path meant. Earlier, in Luke’s 9th chapter, we’re told that Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem” — and we will follow that path with him throughout this season of Lent.
Jesus is single-minded here. He is going to Jerusalem; he is going there to die. And that’s the power we find in this Gospel lesson. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die; he is going there to die for our salvation. That’s the reason for the subtle temptation here.
“Get out of here,” the Pharisees say. “For Herod wants to kill you!” Now, their hearts may be in the right place, but their minds are being controlled by the tempter. The last thing the devil wants is for Jesus to continue on the path on which he has been set by God. The devil failed to pull Jesus away in his weakness, so now the devil circles back and comes after Jesus in his moment of strength and tries a different strategy — ”You’re doing so much good, Jesus! You’re successful! You have all these people following you! But watch out; you’re not safe. If Herod gets to you, all this will come crashing down. If Herod succeeds in killing you all this will come to a bitter end!”
Put yourself in Jesus’ place. The devil is sowing the seeds of doubt.
If the devil is willing to tempt Jesus, then we can be sure the devil will try to tempt us as well.
But he’ll do it in subtle ways, just as he did with Jesus.
Temptation is the desire to do something you should’t do, especially something which is wrong or unwise.
Temptation is something you want to have or want to do, even though you know you shouldn’t. That bag of peanut butter cups on top of the fridge might be an example of a temptation. The thing that you want despite knowing it’s not good for you – like the cool sneakers you really can’t afford – is temptation.
But remember, temptation is not a sin. To be tempted is to be human. But giving-in to temptation is a sin.
So how do we resist temptation?
We pray. We pray for strength to withstand temptation.
How do we resist temptation?
We remove yourself from the situation which we find tempting.
Other things we can do:
We can surround ourselves with people who love and support us.
We can share our beliefs with others so they know our values and morals.
We can listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us.
We can practice making good decisions and let strength build upon strength.
We can get to church as often as possible. And have good and healthy friends.
We can stay close to God.
Remember Jesus knew how often we would have to deal with temptation that he intentionally included the word temptation in the Lord’s Prayer which we pray every time we gather. Jesus taught his own disciples to ask God to NOT lead them into temptation, but to deliver them from evil.
We’ll all be tested with temptations all throughout our lives; it’s a part of being human. And it’s a part of God giving us Free Will and the freedom to choose Him or to not choose Him. The choice will always be ours.
But here’s the Good News; here’s the news that the devil can’t stand for us to hear —
WE AREN’T IN THIS ALONE!
Our God walks with us every step of the way. God knows how difficult it is for us to resist the power of the devil. He knows because Jesus, in all his humanity defeated the power of the devil. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem and never strayed from that path. He went on to Jerusalem and He died for our sins, and through the grace of God we are forgiven.
So, when we face the tempter — as we do every day — know that we are not alone. Know that Jesus walks beside us. Know that Jesus will give us his strength to resist the tempter’s power.
During this Lenten Season, let’s set our faces toward Easter and stay the course knowing that Jesus walks with us to protect and guide us.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog