The traditional Gospel for this First Sunday in Lent takes place in a wilderness. For many of us, the word brings to mind forests, like the Black Hills here in South Dakota. Wild, sure, but beautiful, spiritual, peaceful.
But the Judean wilderness in which Jesus was tempted by Satan isn’t green; it’s more like South Dakota’s Badlands. Dry, life challenging if not threatening, and suggesting the possibility of a malign visitor…
Ventures into the wilderness require an outfitter, someone who knows how to survive in the environment and can equip another to do the same.
The more I read the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the more it appears to me that the prayer he taught his followers has direct application to our journey through a “wilderness” that is a spiritual Badlands, where we need to be outfitted against the life sapping forces of the world, the flesh and the devil.
+ In the wilderness, Jesus fasted and “was famished.” The devil tempts Jesus to manipulate his power to create munchies, and Jesus resists by quoting Moses about not living by bread alone, but by the word from the mouth of God.
And so Jesus outfits us with the petition, give us this day our daily bread, at once a reliance upon God for the physical sustenance that protects us from rash actions born of want and a surrender to the eternal word of God versus the urgent demands of passing situations.
+ In the wilderness, the devil tempts Jesus to force a meaning on God’s word. “Doesn’t God say his angels will catch you if you fall? So make Him prove it. Jump off a tower.”
So Jesus outfits us with the words, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, an acknowledgement that God’s will, not ours, is sovereign, even in the things of this passing life. We must not put God to a test devised in our own desires, but seek to know and obey His will as revealed in Scripture.
+ In the wilderness, the devil tempts Jesus with entitlement to all the impressive things of human life, as long as Jesus will worship the tempter – I mean, really worship by falling down in submission, an inferior in the presence of a superior.
So Jesus outfits us with the words, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. There is one God, the Father in heaven, the only worthy object of worship. (If you’re in a liturgical church, note that the church’s prayers are to the Father, through the Son, in the unifying power of the Holy Spirit.)
And Jesus outfits us with the petition, thy kingdom come. Whatever great things attract us, our “compass” must keep us on the hard trail that leads to life. We seek the kingdom of God, and so many detours and assumed short cuts lead to destruction.
Jesus outfits us with the prayer, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is a radical rejection of all the impressive things that allure us deeper into the deadly wilderness and away from the eternal kingdom we seek. To ask forgiveness is to drop the dead weight of our own self-important achievements and “travel light,” reliant on the mercy of God revealed in Christ Jesus for our life. To forgive others is to reject the power to arrange the world around ourselves. It is to fast from our sense of entitlement to a “splendid kingdom” of this world, and to equip others with the mercy that can help them out of the wilderness in which they, too, are struggling to survive.
+ Finally, Jesus closes his outfitting prayer with words that seem to come straight from his time in the wilderness, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. It is a solemn prayer that God not leave us on our own in the wilderness, but equip us with all we need to resist the tempter.
More than that, it is a profound plea to make our time in the wilderness an outpouring of devotion to God. Jesus’ final rebuttal of the tempter is, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. At these words, the devil retreats, and angels come to refresh Jesus.
Then, he goes out to begin preaching his Good News. Deliver us from evil is not just a prayer for relief, it is a petition for the freedom to traverse the wilderness with all of the marvelous equipment that the Holy Spirit apportions to us, and to do so as part of an expedition, because no one can bear all of the equipment for the journey. It must be made with others.
Which is why Jesus outfits us with a prayer to Our Father to provide for and protect us.