Mark 1: 9-15
Forty days and forty nights
Thou was fasting in the wild
Forty days and forty nights,
Tempted yet still undefiled
Marks mentions Jesus entering into the wilderness and being tempted in just three brief sentences.
“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him”.
Mathew and Luke elaborate on the kind of temptations Jesus had, which were unique to Him as the Son of God. Jesus had just had the most amazing experience as He was baptised. He had confirmed to Him something He may have been partly conscious of for most of His life. What a brilliant and awesome revelation! But what would it mean for Him and what He had to do from that point on? What would it mean for Him knowing He was the Son of God with a special vocation?
Jesus had real temptations. Some may suppose that Jesus as God’s Son had it easy in resisting temptation. He had all knowledge and could never sin. But I rather to think Jesus, truly being human had to have some limitation to his knowledge and that if He really was to be one of us did have the potential to say “no” to God’s will for Him. He had real freedom of will and choice and so He could have fallen into temptation and failed.
Jesus greatness is not that He could not sin, it was that He could have sinned but did not. He knew He must follow what He felt God was calling Him to do
He was always conscious that He must be doing the business of His heavenly Father and follow the divine will.
He also became aware at various times that His commitment to His Father would lead Him into conflict with the religious and civil authorities and would lead to His arrest and death.
So, in the wilderness and at other times of His ministry, and in the Garden of Gethsemani Jesus was tempted to take the easy way out and avoid the conflict with the authorities and avoid the arrest and crucifixion. It is His greatness and glory that He always chose the will of God and not His own desires. He conquered His own desires and because He conquered them He is the power that helps us to conquer our temptations too.
This leads me to consider how we make out choices in life and how we decide to follow Christ or not in each and every day. A few years ago I came across something written by the Franciscan Philosopher John Duns Scotus as he examines what motivates people in their choices of what they may do.
In the first place people have a will to do what they think pleases them and gives them some joy and advantage. We can call this the Self will. It includes those natural inclinations to look after ourselves, find food and home, some-one to love and love for family and various comforts in life. The problem with the Self- will is that it can become corrupted. Every action becomes that of self satisfaction, irrespective of law, or conflict with others. The worst person to live and work with is always seeking their own will to satisfy themselves. It can become a reason why marriages and partnerships fail.
But says Scotus, there is another motive for doing things. It is what we may call the will to do God’s Loving Justice. It is the impulse to do what pleases God and brings His goodness into what we do. We can have will to have God’s goodness and do God’s goodness even if we have to say “no” to our desires. We can say “yes to God’s goodness, and “no” to self. Indeed throughout our Christian spiritual journey our desires for ourselves should become the same as doing God’s goodness, as we delight in doing that above all else.
Coming back to Jesus and His temptations, Jesus always chose God’s Goodness even at the cost of persecution and hanging on the cross. Although we have not had that great experience of Jesus of His Baptism. In essence we do know that God says to us in our baptism and ever after
“You are my beloved. I have a destiny and purpose for you, I have provided for you to have a share of my Eternity and fellowship, if you will accept it”
In the light of that promise, every day we may have choices to make, to be motivated by just what pleases us or to be motivated to choose what God wills for us and to respond and do it. Each day we can choose the better will. Each day we can have as our desire to do the Will of Him who also blesses us and sends us into the world.
I began with the words of a well known Lenten hymn.
I end with two more verses
And if Satan vexing sore
Flesh or spirit should assail
Thou his vanquisher before
Grant that we not faint nor fail
Keep oh keep us Saviour dear
Every constant by thy side
That with thee we may appear
At that eternal Eastertide.