Saturday, March 4, 2017

Temptations And Half Truths

 Lent 1A 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

This is the first Sunday in Lent Year A 2017. My homily is based on our opening collect, the Old Testament Lesson and the Gospel Lesson.
From the Opening Collect we hear, “Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
There is a reassurance and comfort to our Collect. We are assaulted by many temptations. We all have our own weaknesses. If we ask, God will help us in resisting these temptations. We surely can’t resist on our own.
       But what are temptations and how are we tempted? Looking at our Old Testament Lesson and Gospel lesson we will better understand why we so easily fall into temptation. It is because temptations are really a willingness on our part to accept half the truth. Because temptations are half true, it is really why temptations are so dangerous. Keep in mind however that the biggest lie of all is half the truth. That is why the diabetic person who eats a double portion of rich chocolate cake because it tastes good has chosen to accept only half the truth.   
In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus suffered three major temptations in His encounter with Satan in the desert. The “Tempter” said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."  Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" The temptation was to use His Godly powers for Himself. Jesus was hungry because of forty days of fasting and Satan challenged Him to turn the stones to bread. Here Jesus is tempted through His physical needs. Half the truth would have been access to food, which Jesus surely desperately wanted. Satan knew very well that Christ was the Son of God yet he began his temptation with, “If you are the Son of God…” He was trying to trick Christ. In order for Christ to prove to Satan who He was by turning the stones into bread, He would have to obey Satan. Jesus would have none of this and defeated Satan with the Word of God. “Man does not live by bread alone”.
In the second temptation, “The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’" Let’s examine that half-truth for a moment. Satan was half right that the kingdoms of the world had been given to him. But who gave it to him? Adam and Eve, who traded their authority and splendor for the knowledge of evil, gave the kingdoms of the world to Satan. I will talk more about this later. Here is another half-truth. “I can give it to anyone I want to”. Of course, what Satan is not saying is that although he could give the kingdoms to anyone he wanted to; he doesn’t want to give the kingdoms to anyone. He wants to keep them for himself. It is a false promise a half-truth and a lie.  “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ Satan then offered Jesus dominion over the world if Jesus would bow down to Satan and Jesus refused saying that He would worship and serve only God.” Here Jesus is tempted through His human need to have power over others. He was tempted to trade the Kingdom of God for the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus fully knew the purpose of His mission and stated it in John’s Gospel. “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47b)
“The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"  Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Once again, Satan is now actually using the Word of God to try and get Jesus to do his bidding but Jesus would have none of it and used the Word again to defeat Satan (Deuteronomy 6:16). Satan was quoting from Psalm 91. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (verses 11-12). Of course the half-truth is Satan neglected to include the next verse from the Psalm.  “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” which is a prophesy that Jesus will defeat Satan.  
I would also note that in all these temptations Satan would have controlled God if Jesus had acted on any one of them. It is God Who gives the orders. He is the King of kings and has dominion even over the prince of this world the devil.  And that is the real struggle on a cosmic level.  When we sin, we don’t just sin against God, we become allies with Satan. Each time Jesus was tempted there was a cosmic struggle between good and evil and we saw Jesus defeat Satan. All of these temptations deal with worldly and physical human needs. As humans we are particularly vulnerable to them. The monastics have taken these temptations of Christ very seriously for they know they are engaged in a cosmic struggle between good and evil.  On a personal level they make vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience in response to these same temptations of Christ.  The monastics guide their entire vocational life addressing the struggle against the physical desires (poverty), personal power (obedience) and personal pride (chastity).
Now let’s look at the most tragic episode in the history of humankind and use our understanding of the three temptations of Jesus to understand what happened to Adam and Eve.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘you may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’” “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, you shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" This is how Satan begins to move the line from an absurd proposition that Adam and Eve may not eat from ANY tree in the garden, when he knows fully that they are forbidden the fruit of only ONE tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “The woman said to the serpent, ‘we may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." This is another half-truth of Satan for they already knew good so the only thing to be gained by touching the fruit was to know evil.  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
I see the temptations for Adam and Eve as similar to those for Christ in the wilderness.  Physical desire, Power over others and Pride. These are all ego needs. The birth of the ego is the beginning of self-consciousness and the loss of innocence. It brings with it a separation from God. It is in being born again that we are remade in the Image of Christ. We are no longer egocentric, we are Christ centered.
Here you have the temptation addressing the physical needs [fruit as food], The need for Power [you will be like God] and the Pride [you will know good and evil], Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. By disobeying God and by following the suggestions of Satan they switched allegiances to Satan. They gave away the world that God had given to them for the knowledge of evil, which was the only thing Satan had to offer. It is the only thing he is willing to give away. For God would have all men to be saved and Satan would have no man to be saved. That is his ultimate goal. That is why Jesus calls him a liar, a thief and a murderer.  
It is in a larger scope an opportunity to view the cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, between God and Satan and on a smaller scale it is the battle within us.  With our baptismal vows, we have decided to join this battle on God’s side.  “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?” “I do.”  Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?” “I do and with God’s grace I will follow him as my savior and Lord.”
Fear often follows temptation and drives us in the wrong direction. As I was about to be baptized as an adult many years ago, the thought came to me, “You are throwing your life away for this Jesus.” In this half-truth of Satan, I was throwing my life away and good riddance.
Another time just before communion the thought came to me, “It is poison”. Looking back, that was also half true. It was poison in the mind of Satan. I went forward for communion because I had the mind of Christ. Another example in my life was the belief that I would die if I were to stop drinking alcohol. This ambassador to the Kingdom could not be a drunk and represent his master to the world. The drunk did have to die. 
We are attacked through our physical needs, our need for power and our pride. What half-truths do you buy into daily? What half-truths do you peddle to others?
When we have repented and confessed our sins to God, God remembers them no more.  If you still feel guilty about a sin you have repented of and confessed, then it is not God reminding you of this sin. It is the “Tempter” who would have none to be saved. Another name for Satan is the accuser and it is he that is bringing you the false guilt.  Real guilt is a genuine psychological pain that drives us to repentance just as the pain of a burn causes us to act.  In both cases the pain is real and intended to warn us of a problem.  If we ignore the problem, we ignore it at an even greater peril.

Consider Lent as a time for introspection and self-examination.  Think of the areas Jesus, Adam and Eve and we too are tempted. Remember that most temptations are half-truths and half-truths are the most dangerous lies of all. Help us Jesus. Amen

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