Matthew 4:1-11 – First Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 9, 2014
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil . . .” (Matthew 4:1)
Once, when about ten years old and visiting our grandparent’s farm, Grandma protected my tender ears by spelling out—not speaking—a terrible word. We were in the living room, its immense picture window revealing the circular front lawn with the huge pine tree anchoring the far curve, like a massive stem on a green apple.
Grandma, voice raised to get Mom’s attention, said something like, “And I’ll tell you this, that man has got the . . .”
She hesitated, glanced my way. Ah, a grandchild in the room.
Grandma, softer, continued, “He’s got the D-E-V-E-L in him.”
The farm was a paradise for children, with its expansive fields and orchards. Bear Creek meandered beside a pasture. There were placid cows and feral cats, swooping hawks and sneaky rabbits. Grandma desired the farm, and her words, to be safe for her brood of forever visiting grandchildren.
Spell the bad word out; protect innocent ears. But I wondered why Grandma misspelled one of the names for Satan. Everybody knew devil had an “e” and an “i” . . . didn’t they? In a surprising decision for a smarty-pants kid like me, I didn’t tell my beloved grandmother about her spelling error.
But I later asked Mom and she said, “I think you know exactly what your grandmother meant.” Gulp . . . ‘nuff said.
I did. I went to Sunday school. The devil was a bad, bad dude.
And therefore, as a pipsqueak that could spell and adored his grandmother, I was sure the man she referred to, the man with an unknown name and deeds, was bad. He had the devil in him.
As an adult, I’ve abandoned the simplistic views of my Baptist Sunday school teachers. Their warnings of a battle between the perfect Jesus and the conniving “tempter,” of the battle that rages even in the hearts and minds of little boys if they aren’t careful, now seems manipulative and silly.
As an adult, I don’t think of the devil (or d-e-v-e-l) as real . . . or a fallen angel, a source of evil, a divine rival. The tempter, so wrote Matthew, shadowed every waking and sleeping hour of Jesus for forty wilderness days. Really? Such ancient hoo-hah!
But here I am at another Lent, a time of reflection about, and preparation for, Easter. I hear Grandma’s voice. I sense her glance at me. I wasn’t innocent then, I’m certainly not now. And so I wonder . . . will my Lenten reflections be honest, will my preparations be faithful?
In the Gospel, the tempter offered Jesus the possibility of a full stomach, physical safety and world power. Hey, none of those tempt me! (Well, maybe the food.) And yet what about these three: alcohol, greed and pornography? Or these: cheating, lying and plagiarizing? Or these: adultery, drugs and gambling? Or these . . .
(Please note, fellow adults, I alphabetized each three-word list. Perhaps it made them appear logical . . . predictable . . . safe. And perhaps I fool myself . . . which is one of my more refined talents.)
When I don’t restrict myself to the Biblical temptations, I might quickly—oh, how quickly—speak one that claws and gnaws at my soul. Or yours.
Welcome to the season of Lent. It’s not meant to be a safe place.
(Image of desert journey from here.)