Sunday, February 14, 2016

Stone to Bread, and Avoiding Discomfort

At church this morning, the sermon was about Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert in Luke 4.  The story also appears in Matthew 4.  Pastors often preach about one of these passages to introduce Lent.

Jesus in the desert had fasted for forty days and was hungry.  Satan tempted Jesus, saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”  Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, which states that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

In 2012, I wrote a post wondering why it would have been wrong for Jesus to turn the a stone into bread to feed himself.  What was the big deal?  I was wrestling with what my pastor (at the time) was suggesting.  He said that Jesus wanted to use his powers to help others rather than himself.  That did not entirely satisfy me: What would be wrong with Jesus helping himself?

A blogger, Paintbrush, left a comment under my post directing me to a post that he wrote about the topic.  I reread the post just now to refresh myself about what his argument was, and his argument will probably stick with me this time around.

For Paintbrush, this temptation concerned the basis for Jesus’ self-understanding as the Son of God.  Satan was telling Jesus, “IF you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”  Satan was questioning Jesus’ status as Son of God, or Satan was tempting Jesus to question it.  Satan was conditioning Jesus’ status as Son of God on Jesus’ ability to turn a stone into bread.  But Jesus chose not to condition his belief that he was the Son of God on his ability to turn a stone into bread.  Rather, Jesus believed that he was the Son of God because God himself declared Jesus to be his Son when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22).  Jesus relied on the word of God, not his ability to turn a stone into bread.  Although Jesus was hungry, there was something more important at stake than him satisfying his physical hunger: he needed to rely on God’s word.

My pastor this morning offered another interpretation of what the temptation was.  For my pastor, the temptation was for Jesus to take the easy way out and eliminate discomfort.  According to my pastor, discomfort is often where we can find God, where God can come to minister to us.  In addition, Jesus’ path would be the way of the cross, and he told his disciples to take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23).  That overlaps with Lent: people give something up and experience some discomfort to become closer to God.  My pastor said that Lent is a sort of spring cleaning, as we deal with things we have done, and things that others have done to us.  The world is broken, he said, and we can better minister to the world when we deal with the brokenness within ourselves.  This last point reminds me of a post that I wrote in 2008: the temptation of Jesus was preparing Jesus for his ministry.  The temptation set the stage for Jesus to have the attitudes that he needed to minister, especially in the midst of uncomfortable or dangerous situations.

Initially, I asked: Why put myself into an uncomfortable situation?  If uncomfortable situations come to me, that is one thing, but why should I put myself in uncomfortable situations?  I don’t want to be like those monks who wore hairshirts to show how penitent they were!  Or I don’t want to wear that big red sweater that Leonard wore on that episode of Big Bang Theory: wouldn’t that kind of discomfort actually distract me from thinking about God?

Maybe.  At the same time, there is more to life than one’s own personal comfort.  Emotional pain has often given me an opportunity to think about God, to draw closer to God for orientation.  Should we always flee discomfort?

Discomfort will probably come to me without me looking for it, and I will use that as an opportunity to turn to God.  I probably will not give up TV or chocolate for Lent.  I do plan, however, on giving something up.

I doubt that this principle should be taken in absolute directions.  Even the pastor admitted that he took medication to recover from his recent sickness!  People who are taking medication for their physical or mental health should probably continue to do so.  Still, there is some place for discomfort, or for not being obsessed with comfort.

I’ll probably be writing about Justice Scalia this coming Wednesday.  Stay tuned!

2 comments:

  1. What struck me about the Jesus' encounter with the devil was why he Jesus couldn't have simply willed himself to not be hungry. I mean, if he had the power to turn stone to bread, what was the whole point of the exercise? And if he could have sent the devil on his way at any point during the exchange, what WAS the point?

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  2. It could be that Jesus was going out of his way to be vulnerable to temptation, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some of the ways we conquer temptations are the things you said Jesus could have done: try to feed in a constructive manner any weakness that can make us vulnerable to temptation, or telling the devil to go away (or a secular equivalent to that).

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