Monday, March 14, 2011

An Easier Way, Second Look

Put yourself in this place: stretched to the limit, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. You are tired, hungry, scared, emptied out, and are facing something huge, huge, huge.  Life-changingly huge.

It could be the night before an exam that will determine graduation or expulsion, a big presentation at work, a decision that will radically impact your life and the lives of those you love the most. You know the task before you will take everything you have—and there are no assurances that you will prevail, succeed, overcome.  Yet, you know you must do this.

Then someone, apparently kind and compassionate, aware of your travail and the challenge before you, comes and says, “I can make this work for you! Here, take my hand, and let me show you an easier way.” 

What would you do?  What would I do? 

That's what Jesus faced, when, after going public as God's prophet and beloved son, sent to bring salvation to the world, headed to the wilderness for extended fasting and prayer. There, at the point of extreme exhaustion, fatigue and hunger, the tempter showed up and said, "Let me give you what you want, without all the pain."

The tempter's offers were legitimate: necessary food, recognition of who Jesus was, and the ultimate reward that would come anyway--all the kingdoms on earth.

All Jesus had to do was compromise one tiny, little thing. Just one thing:  worship the tempter, that which is not holy, not god, instead of the Holy God of all creation.

No big deal. Just one little thing.

But Jesus knew who he was. He knew why he lived and what he was to do. Surely he knew his chosen path would not lead to immediate reward, or ease of physical travail, or ego-stroking recognition. Surely, he knew it was going to be a painful, heart wrenching journey of anguish, betrayal, loss and pain.  But he stayed the course, because he loved. Above all, he loved.  He loved because he was the human manifestation of love.

I, for one, am completely grateful. I, also for one, know I don't hold up nearly so well to the common temptations. The temptations to satisfy my physical cravings, to be recognized, to have power and to satisfy my wishes for those things now, even though it will cost more later.  All of these have all those temptations. Grab what we want and grab it now. Be popular; rise to the top of the heap; be the most this, the best that; gain the competitive edge that leaves everyone in our dust.

Again, these temptations pull on legitimate needs and desires. These needs and desires drive economies and build sports teams. They enhance the arms race so weapons are bigger, better, more destructive. These drives also, when properly put into service of a Holy God, feed the world, free the oppressed, create medical miracles, spur generosity, enhance creativity, and fill us with love, energy and the hope for the future.

This time of Lent, for me, is to look closely and see where I will indeed chose the easy way out, the compromise of the soul, in order to reach ends that are legitimate, but . . . at what cost?  I invite you into that journey of self-examination with me.  To know the truth about ourselves is to know true freedom to love God and our neighbor.

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