The account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness has been proclaimed on the first Sunday of Lent in Christian communities worldwide from as early as the fourth century. It impresses on us the enduring dynamics of the reorientation central to the season. Matthew’s narrative highlights the ways Satan tempts Jesus to disobedience and to rebel against his true sonship.
Over the centuries, spiritual commentators have pointed to the forms such temptations might take for Jesus’ followers. Ignatius of Loyola named these temptations pride, power, and privilege. More recently, in the provocative yet insightful film Jesus of Montreal (1989), a rag-tag group of actors is hired to put on a Passion Play. The actor Daniel, who plays Jesus, crafts a more radical drama for the troupe than the pious script given them. Meanwhile, the actors’ lives begin to mesh with the characters they play. An affluent show business lawyer takes Daniel to a penthouse apartment overlooking the glittering Quebec cityscape. If Daniel signs a contract, stardom and all of this could be his. As the troupe continues to perform the non-traditional drama, the overseers complain that their audiences don’t want to be challenged but rather consoled by a familiar platitudinous message.
The film explores the temptations of religious complacency and contemporary culture: conspicuous consumption, celebrity, advertising, sexism, the quest for power, success, and fame. In characterizing Jesus’ temptations through the actors’ lives, the film offers novel interpretations of Jesus’ true message.
On this first Sunday of the season of turning, may we be challenged to newly explore the ways in which we are co-opted by our religious complacency and our culture’s false idols.
Reflect on this passage in light of your circumstances: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . [A]s for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15, niv).
In this first week of Lent, we prepare our hearts for a period of reflection. We think about areas of our lives in which we might be falling short of God’s desires. The problem of sin enters the human story at the very beginning, for Adam and Eve choose to follow their own wisdom rather than guidance from God. The psalmist highlights the importance of recognizing our sin and asking for forgiveness, which God is quick to give. In Romans, Paul argues that we all partake in the broken human condition because we all have sinned as Adam did. The story of Jesus in the desert admonishes us to be on guard against the deception of our fleshly desires and our pride.
Read Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7. How might this story help you turn from superbia to humilitas throughout your Lenten journey?
Read Psalm 32. What seeming dichotomies comprise the full picture of your life of faith?
Read Romans 5:12-19. How do you sense the differences Paul draws between Adam and Christ prompting you to turn toward God?
Read Matthew 4:1-11. What are your own temptations? How does Jesus’ response to his temptations guide you in responding to yours?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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