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Ongoing dangers

I hope that you are having a good Lent and any resolutions going well.

We are a few weeks into Lent and it is possible that we have given up on resolutions or failed a few times but still keeping going. It is hard making a resolution, whether to give something up or to do something positive and it can involve struggle.

Maybe it is easier when we are doing something positive for others, as when we are investing in other people, we can feel more resolute and that its more worthwhile.

There are initiatives such as “40 Acts” that are focused on looking outwards. If anyone gave you a bar of chocolate on Tuesday that was connected to 40 Acts.

Last week the focus was on the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

Both Matthew and Luke tell the story in slightly different ways but both want to show that the temptations to are focused on Jesus when he might be most physically and spiritual vulnerable.

When I first read the Gospel passage from St Luke earlier in the week it struck me that the temptations of Jesus must have continued right through his ministry.

St Luke has a turning point when Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem and starts to tell his disciples that when he gets there he will be rejected, put on trial and condemned.

A hint of the danger is given in the warning given by some of the Pharisee’s. They are often seen as the opponents of Jesus but it is dangerous to lump groups of people together.

He is warned to get away the area as Herod “wants to kill you.”

There is some interesting animal imagery.

Jesus refers to Herod as “that fox,” and then speaks of how he desired to gather the children of Jerusalem together as “a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Foxes and chickens do not generally co-exist and possibly it is a reference to the danger that the city will face in the future.

I think that the ongoing temptation is to walk away and leave all this behind.

To live under the threat of violence and intimidation must take a huge toll but Jesus will not be deflected from his goal.

He is not a victim, but chooses his own path. Jerusalem is the destination and “it is impossible that a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

I was reading a description of temptation last week and it said this:

“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.

I think for Jesus this is more likely to be the ongoing challenge of temptation: to stray from the values that are most important.

Rather than heading towards to Jerusalem he could have been tempted to turn around and head back towards the safety of Galilee.

There were two roads for Jesus.

They diverged. One led back to Galilee, to home and safety. The other led to Jerusalem and suffering and betrayal.

Heading back seems reasonable and would have most likely pleased his friends and family, yet in another passage we are told Jesus was resolute and set his face like flint on the road to Jerusalem.

From one perspective this shows the determination of Jesus not to be deflected and to keep moving forward.

One way of interpreting all of this is to say that it is a story about being resolute and overcoming obstacles.

Yet, I think that there is another dimension in this story that shows us something of the very nature of the God we worship.

There is something in the very nature of God that is defined by self-giving love.

Everything that Jesus does, healing people, forgiving their sins, ending peoples suffering, being in companionship with others is a reflection of the God who brings life to others in its fulness.

There is a book by Sam Wells that speaks about God as Trinity:

“The Trinity celebrates that God is three persons in one substance. In other words, God isn’t a thing, an edifice, a piece of technology, an impressive sight, even a dazzling light or a blazing fire. God is a relationship.

God is a relationship of three persons, so wonderfully shaped towards one another, so wondrously with one another, that we call them one, but so exquisitely diverse and distinct within that unity that we call them three.

But that shape has a direction, a fixed person, an orienting goal. The life of the Trinity is so shaped, not simply to be in perfect relationship, but to be in relationship with us.”

(Learning to Dream Again: Rediscovering the Heart of God,” p. 15)

I think that I like that description as it is a reminder there is nothing selfish in the nature of God.

Jesus does not leave anyone out of those he wants to be in relationship with: his list includes men and women who are Samaritans, Gentiles, sinners and tax collectors.

Everything that takes place in the Gospel stories is for the benefit of others and everything that Jesus does is life giving and in almost every case seeks to end the suffering of those he meets.

There is only one exception to Jesus putting an end to suffering and that is where his own suffering is concerned.

In this instance, as seen in his determined stance in walking towards Jerusalem, he does not try to end suffering, but deliberately submits to it.

I think that the reason for this is that there is a willingness of God to be in complete solidarity with the human condition and bring healing and forgiveness.

So as Lent continues it is good to refocus and try again when it comes to resolutions and keep our eyes on the prize.

We can be resolute in doing the right thing and holding to the values that are most important.

Yet everything that we do is a response to the God who meets us here and whose self-giving and generous love can inspire and guide us along the way.

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