Matthew 4:1-11 (The Message)
I came upon a list of available jobs on Indeed.com that offer paid job training. It’s such a challenge now for companies to hire workers so they really have to be willing to offer this paid job training perk.
I noticed that to be a Motor Coach Operator, for example, you can receive five weeks of paid training. To be a Customer Service Tech Support person for Spectrum, you will receive ninety days of paid training. And that may still not be enough. You can receive paid training if you’re interested in working in pest control, or if you’re interested in becoming a “water restoration technician”…for Roto-Rooter. You can be paid to receive training in how to pick-up modems from customers on behalf of Makotek, an equipment recovery service for the cable industry. And perhaps my favorite option, you can receive paid training to work in Buffalo on behalf of the University of Michigan as a Part Time Field Interviewer. What is a Field Interviewer, you ask? Well, according to Indeed.com, a Field Interviewer “helps scientists collect high quality data used to inform policy and improve the world.” How cool is that?! Paid job training to help improve the world.
I had two good experiences of job training when I was on my path to becoming an ordained minister. First, in addition to my course work in my second year of seminary, I was enrolled in the seminary’s required Field Education program, now called a “supervised ministry” program. To give potential pastors practical experiences of life in ministry, students would connect with a congregation or an agency, under the watchful eye of a trained, on-site supervisor. My very low-key and encouraging supervisor was the Rev. Ted Cooper. I spent a few hours each week during an academic year working with him and his congregation at the First Baptist Church, in Newark, NY. I led meetings. I led worship services. I taught Sunday School. I worked with the youth group. I led a funeral or two. All of this was unpaid.
Then, during the summer between my second and third years of seminary, I took a Clinical Pastoral Education course. I moved to Cleveland for the summer, and worked—again, without pay—as a chaplain at a small hospital—known as Fairview General Hospital, at the time—near where my college roommate and her husband lived. This was an eight-week program and it definitely involved a great deal of intense learning about myself, my call to ministry, and my ability to care for others in difficult circumstances.
Many years later, I’m still grateful I had these opportunities for job training. Maybe you are grateful for a job training experience, as well. Many professions require testing or training to make sure folks are ready for the job. Plumbers, electricians, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, ministers . . . Son of God. Wait a minute; wouldn’t you think the dove descending at the baptism of Jesus and the godly voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” would be enough to get Jesus an exemption from this particular job training session he’s about to enter? No such luck.
The account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness that we encounter on this first Sunday in Lent, is seen as a pivotal time of training and testing in the life of Christ. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story, although there are differences between their versions of it. Even though the wilderness is the scene of the opening of Mark's gospel, he has only two verses on Jesus' temptation but most of the features that Mark relates in those two verses are also related by Luke and Matthew, namely: (1) that Jesus was sent to the wilderness by the Spirit, (2) that he spent 40 days there, (3) that Satan tempted him there and (4) that the angels came to minister to him. Luke leaves out the visit by the angels.
In all the versions of this time of job training, we see the same relationship between Satan and the Spirit of God. The Spirit, in a sense, sends Jesus to Satan, confident that Jesus will resist the temptations offered him and be proved worthy of his calling. It is as if the ancients felt that without this time of training, with this test of temptation, loyalty was cheap and not to be trusted. What was required was steadfastness of purpose, which can only be demonstrated in the face of testing. The devil, in Greek, is the diabolos, "the one who separates" you from your purpose, who distracts you, who singles you out, either for failing in faithfulness or to tempt you into failure.
The most amazing part of this story is that in Christ, God chose to stand with us and by us in love—fully human and fully divine—and its really Jesus’ divinity that is being tested here. To echo Disney’s Aladdin, God has “phenomenal cosmic power” but, because God chose to become human, “itty-bitty living space.” Jesus is fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, and he’s just been given an opportunity. But this test isn’t about food. It’s about power. The devil is tempting God to show what God can do. In many translations, the scripture quotes Satan as saying, “If you are the Son of God” but the translation we’re using today is better because Satan’s dare should really be translated “Since you are the Son of God.” The devil isn’t asking Jesus to prove who he is. The devil knows exactly who Jesus is. Instead, he is trying to provoke Jesus to use the power the devil knows he has. Since you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. Throw yourself down and let the angels catch you. Take the kingdoms of the world for yourself.
Remember that Jesus is a survivor of a mass murder—known as the slaughter of the innocents—and has grown up among an oppressed people. Will he leap at the chance to avenge the murders of the innocent? The temptation for vengeance is made all the more intense by the power at God’s hand to achieve it in full.
But instead, God makes the choice for love. After 40 days in the wilderness, three temptations, three refusals to submit, and angels who attend him, Jesus gets on with the task at hand: teaching, healing, and loving.
Jesus withstood temptation because his love for us was greater than his earthly desire. If our love for God reflects this strength, then we can withstand anything that threatens to stand between us and God’s love. Figuring out if our love for God does, indeed, reflect this strength, is our work this Lenten season. May we be steadfast in the journey. Rev. Lisa Drysdale, February 26, 2023