A collect is a prayer that focuses the prayers of the whole assembly of people gathered to worship. It’s usually tied into the theme of a particular day, during a specific season of the church year. And in today’s collect that we prayed at the beginning of the service, we asked God, whose Son was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, to help us who are assaulted by many temptations.
The idea is that, just as Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, you and I are in the wilderness season of Lent. And as we reflect during this season on our mortality and all the ways that our sin separates us from God and from others, and as we seek to turn away from those things and turn to God, we acknowledge that we need God’s help because we are assaulted by many temptations. The fact that we have many temptations is something each of us can verify. But what’s the root cause of those many temptations, and what does Jesus show us today about how we can turn away from them and turn to God?
It’s important to remember the context for today’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus has just been baptized by John the Baptizer. The heavens open up. The Holy Sprit descends onto Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice comes from heaven and says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The very next scene is Jesus in the wilderness for forty days. Jesus who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who is now full of the Holy Spirit after his baptism, is lead by that same Spirit into the wilderness to be tested.
Throughout scripture, the wilderness is a place of danger. It’s away from the bustle of cities and established life. It’s wild and unknown. It’s a dangerous place, but it’s also a place of growth. It’s where many of the faithful went to hear the voice of God. Moses was deep in the wilderness when he encountered God in the burning bush, and received his call to lead Israel out of Egypt. It’s where Israel traveled and were formed into a people, as they were led out of slavery over a period of forty years into the promised land.
In his forty-day temptation, Jesus remains faithful to God in the wilderness. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, and his forty days represents the forty years of Israel’s journey through the desert. But in Jesus, there isn’t any turning away from God. Instead, Jesus is steadfast in his trust in God no matter what temptations he encounters in the wilderness. So how does he do it? He resists the temptations to prove that he is worthy of love, and instead, he lives in the truth that he’s God’s beloved child.
At its very core, this wilderness testing is about relational identity, and you can see it in all three of Satan’s temptations—the root issue is whether or not Jesus will trust he is God’s beloved child. In his baptism, he heard the voice of God say that he was God’s Beloved Child. And Satan’s goal is to get Jesus to doubt that identity as the Beloved.
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, “turn these stones into bread.”
“Worship me and I’ll give you the glory and authority of all the kingdoms of the world.”
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, “you could jump off here and God’s angels would protect you.”
In effect, all three of Jesus’ responses to these temptations is the same. He’s basically saying that he’s God’s beloved child and he doesn’t need to do anything to prove that he’s worthy of God’s love. He doesn’t need to do something flashy like turning stones into bread, because he lives on God’s word of love to him. He doesn’t need to worship and bow down to Satan, because living faithfully in God’s love is more important to him than all the power and authority of the kingdoms of the world. He doesn’t need to throw himself off the temple and test God’s care for him, because he already knows he’s loved.
The author Donald Miller writes about an experience he had in elementary school. His teacher was teaching a lesson about Values Clarification and she asked the class the following question: “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?”
Donald doesn’t remember which person the class decided to throw out of the boat, but he thinks it was the lawyer.
As he’s thought about this question throughout the years, he’s come to believe that pretty much everyone is living like they’re in the lifeboat. Each of us carries this fear inside, that at some point, the other people on the lifeboat are going to look at us and start wondering why we shouldn’t be thrown overboard. And because we’re so scared of others throwing us overboard, we spend our lives trying to prove that we are worthy and belong on the boat.
This is the root of the many temptations that assault us. The root cause of the many temptations that assault us is that we try to prove that we are worthy of love, rather than trusting that we are God’s beloved children.
This is why we try to impress others, or make grabs for power and authority, or act out in relationships. We’re desperately afraid that someone’s going to look at us and start wondering if we’re worth keeping around, and then we end up doing all kinds of things that damage our relationship with God and others.
You may not be tempted to turn stones to bread, but do you ever feel compelled to do flashy things to prove you’re worthy? You may not be tempted to worship Satan, but do you ever do things that you know you shouldn’t in order to get power and authority? You may not have tried to make angels catch you as you fall from a building, but do you ever do things to make people prove that they care for you?
The temptations we face are the same ones Jesus faces. And in this season of Lent, we are invited to follow Jesus into the wilderness and grow in our identity as God’s beloved children and turn away from the ways we try to prove we are worthy of love.
Take time for more space in your day to reflect on your identity as God’s beloved child. Read scripture, meditate, pray, attend worship services, and cut out things in your life that pull you back into lifeboat living. Reflect on the ways you forget your belovedness and try to fill the hole with all the same worn out ways Satan offers through flash, power grabs, and acting out. You have nothing to prove. You are worthy of belonging. You are loved.
We’re in the first week of Lent and you might still be trying to figure out what to give up for the rest of these forty days. Here’s an idea—give up living in the life boat. Instead of trying to prove that you are worthy of love and belonging, trust in your true identity, what God spoke over you at your baptism. “You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”