The season of Lent is now here which means that many of us will be giving something up. At least, for a few weeks. So we’ll give up social media: Facebook, Instagram, etc. We’ll deny ourselves the “vices” like alcohol, fast food or cigarettes. In the past my big denial was chocolate. The positive was the effect of losing a couple pounds. The negative was on Easter morning gorging on the chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies and eggs. The result was gaining the weight back and sometimes a pound or two more. The great denial of Lent starts out with good intentions but the lure to return to former ways is strong. This is how temptation works. It just keeps pulling and pulling and pulling at our weakness like the taste for sweets, the excitement of how many likes are on Facebook or the social connection at the bar. Temptation feeds off our fears, anxieties, desires until it has caught us in its trap.
The readings from the first Sunday in Lent are about two great scenes of temptation: Jesus in the the wilderness, Adam and Eve in the garden. The temptations were much more that eating an apple from the forbidden tree or turning rocks into bread to fill an empty tummy. The temptations were really about our relationship with God.
The Old Testament reading is from Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7. The serpent tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit while Adam seems to be silent in the background. The serpent’s challenge is to the goodness of God who denied them the chance to be like God and know good from evil. Eve and Adam both took a bite; so do we. Yes we do know what good is because we have come to know evil so well. The desire to be like God has brought us war, poverty, division, ecological damage to creation. In the end, death comes.
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by the devil seems to focus on the devil getting Jesus to do what he shouldn’t but the temptation goes much deeper. “If you are the Son of God…” is how each temptation begins. Lets be straight forward. Jesus knew who he was and the devil knew who Jesus was as well. What was at stake wasn’t Jesus’ ability to do what the devil tempted but his identity. Jesus came as God incarnate to save a fallen world. Would he surrender that identity to fill his empty stomach, force the hand of God to serve him or worship what is evil for the world’s power? Jesus refused to give in and take a bite from that forbidden fruit.
The first Sunday in Lent seems to be about temptation but really it is about identity. The verses just prior to Jesus in the wilderness were on his baptism. The Spirit’s presence and the voice from heaven affirmed his identity, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Baptized into Christ, we are marked with his cross and declared to be a child of God. While we think temptation is about eating chocolate, the real temptation is to deny our new identity. Will we deny this identity to claim the place of God? Will we give up our identity to serve ourselves…get God to serve us…or, serve what is evil for power? Giving up our identity is temptation’s real goal.
Whether you decide to give up chocolate or Facebook or fast food for Lent is up to you but hold firm to who you are in Christ – a child of God.