For the assemblies this week I have found a short film of what is called the marshmallow experiment. A child is brought into a room and a marshmallow is placed in front of them.
The child is told that they are going to be left on their own for a few minutes and if they don’t eat the marshmallow, they will be given another one when the teacher returns.
Once the teacher has left the camera focuses in on the child as they do their best to avoid picking up the marshmallow and eating it.
It is hard and quite a few take a bite, but there are some who pick it up, sniff it and stare at it, but hold firm.
It is hard to resist when you have a strong pull towards something.
I used to work in the Simon Community in Glasgow and most of the people who we worked with struggled with addiction and mainly drink. Every day was a battle and struggle against slipping back into an old destructive way of life. Every day was a battle against temptation and a number of residents left and ended back in night shelters and hostels.
The most difficult thing for the residents was to come to terms with the damage that they had caused to loved ones through their addiction and to work through these feelings and try and rebuild trust without slipping back into familiar ways.
I read a good description of temptation this week that changed the emphasis:
“We think of temptation as the pull to do something evil, but it is much more subtle than that. Temptation is to stray from the values we hold dear. Temptation is to take short cuts, to avoid struggle, to compromise our standards. Temptation hangs in our environment like flu virus, always threatening to break our resistance. We are tempted to break our diets, flirt with somebody at work, finesse the chemistry test, cheat on our taxes, gossip about a friend, lie our way out of trouble – you name it. Temptation is all around us, and for most of us it occurs more often than we think.”
I think that the temptation stories in Luke explore the issue from this perspective. The focus is not so much on the past but on the future and what type of ministry Jesus will have.
It is in a way a vocational test and Jesus is given choices that will define who he is and what his ministry will mean.
In essence when push comes to shove, will Jesus compromise on his vocation and take the way of least resistance.
What makes it so hard is that the temptations from one perspective seem very reasonable and balanced.
I just want to focus on the first temptation of turning a stone into bread.
Jesus had been fasting for forty days and no doubt he was hungry, so the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
In response to the devil’s challenge Jesus quotes Scripture, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus is being tempted to use his power for his own ends and comfort.
It is a bit like us saying that we have worked hard and deserve a treat or a reward.
The Gospel stories will describe Jesus using power, but I think in every instance it is always for the benefit of others.
For Jesus the crucial thing is to live by trust in God on the assurance that God will take care of your needs.
There is a book by William Willimon called What’s right with the Church, and in it he describes a meeting in church about temptation.
Dr. Willimon asked the class, “How are we tempted today?”
A young salesman was the first to speak. “Temptation is when your boss calls you in, as mine did yesterday, and says, ‘I’m going to give you a real opportunity. I’m going to give you a bigger sales territory. We believe that you are going places, young man.'”
“But I don’t want a bigger sales territory,” the young salesman told his boss. “I’m already away from home four nights a week. It wouldn’t be fair to my wife and daughter.”
“Look,” his boss replied, “we’re asking you to do this for your wife and daughter. Don’t you want to be a good father? It takes money to support a family today. Sure, your little girl doesn’t take much money now, but think of the future. Think of her future. I’m only asking you to do this for them,” the boss said.
The young man told the class, “Now, that’s temptation.”
In our consumer culture one of the greatest temptations is to want more of everything.
Happiness is just around the corner if only we have more things and more money.
Even the best of us sometimes have the attitude of the financier who was once asked, “How much is enough?” To which he replied, “Just a little bit more.”
I once want to a funeral service and the minister remarked that one thing people won’t say when looking back on their lives is “I wish I'd spent more time at the office.”
It is easy as individuals and a church to fall into that trap of thinking that we can never really be content with what we have and there is always something more.
It is hard to live by trust in God but that is what we are called to do and to face and deal with issues as they come along.
It will not be easy and we maybe faced with difficult choices but we are not left on our own to face life’s challenges.