Temptation and Repentance: Ash Wednesday Girardian Virtual Bible Study Preview

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday at 10:00 am CT, Adam and Lindsey host a live Girardian Virtual Bible Study following the Sunday lectionary on the Raven Foundation Facebook page. We invite our listeners to join the conversation with comments and questions. I take some notes to help me prepare… and share them with you to help you do the same! This is the Girardian Virtual Bible Study preview!

“Lead us not into temptation…”

We say this prayer regularly, some of us every day. But we are meant to follow Jesus, and Jesus himself went into the desert and was tempted.

What does this mean?

I’m not sure. Right now, I’m thinking I prefer the translation, “Save us from the time of trial,” because the trials and temptations are sure to come. Jesus doesn’t lead us into temptation, but he leads to the mountain, to the desert, and into the heart of humanity… and whether we are in solitude or surrounded by crowds, we will face our desires and our temptations to fulfill them. And what we desire will be determined by our models for desire, and how we fulfill, or try to fulfill, those desires will also depend on our models.

If Jesus is our model for both our desires and the means of fulfilling them, then we will long for healing, for restorative justice, for peace that embraces all of humanity at the expense of no one, for love and joy to fill and spill from all hearts. But we will know that the path to the fulfillment of those desires has no shortcuts, that it will require facing our own responsibilities without recourse to blame on enemies or scapegoats, that it will require shunning the trenches of peace over-and-against others and bring us into the no-man’s-land where we could be struck by arrows on either side of a conflict. Not because truth resides in the middle, but because truth resides in connection and right-relationship. And building those relationships takes us out of our comfort zones and makes us vulnerable, not least of all to our own weaknesses and insecurities and the difficulties of facing and walking through them.

Of course, Jesus is not our only model for desire. And even if he were, his time in the desert shows that he wrestled with the desires of this world. The earth and all within it was formed by God — by Love — and declared “good.” But the foundation of this world of human culture — nations and powers and principalities — the foundation of this world is a broken relationship of greed, envy, and violence. It’s the misuse of God’s gift of interconnection — the way in which we are formed in relationship with each other, learning our desires from one-another. This gift is underdeveloped: we know how to want but not how to share, what to claim for ourselves but not what to give to others. It’s a failure to recognize that we can only find our fulfillment in the fulfillment of others, for none of us can be all we truly are unless we make the space and share the resources and build the relationships so that all of us can be who we are made to be — embodiments of Love.

Humanity exists only in relationship, and human culture is a broken relationship. And Jesus lived in the midst of this brokenness, and was tempted by it.

Desires for material fulfillment are not bad; we need food, shelter, clothing, rest… But the greed and enmity that has divided the world’s resources so that a few have much and many have none… this is an evil to which many of us in comfort remain blind. We know there is poverty, but to know that poverty is based on a lie — a lie of us-versus-them, a lie of justifying greed by saying some are too wicked or unworthy of the goods we have — this is something I don’t think many of us who live without hunger have grasped.

Would it have hurt anyone for Jesus to turn those stones to bread? I don’t think so. Or… I don’t know. Would it have severed his connection with those who hunger? Would it have weakened his resolve to build a new world in which the hungry are fed? Did the temptation… “If you are the Son of God…” gnaw at him not only because he wanted to prove himself, but because the words made him want to see himself as more worthy of bread than the millions who go without it?

What could Jesus have done with all the glory and authority of the kingdoms of the world? Could peace have come faster? Liberation for the people of Israel, for the occupied peoples of the world? Fulfillment for the poor?

At what cost?

At the cost of giving in to violence and division, accusation and blame. At the cost of sacrifice of those deemed “least worthy” or “most wicked.” The status quo may be violence, but to cast out violence with violence is to further entrench that status quo.

And yet, the temptation is ever present, to Jesus and to all who know this, and much more to all the people who don’t. And in one way or another, we all succumb to it.

“Jump off that cliff! I dare you! If God loves you, God will catch you.”

Actually, Satan’s temptation is craftier than this, because he quotes scripture: “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you… on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

Maybe this is to help us understand that the Satan is not a flesh-and-blood person, but the voices inside our head that sound like us because they are part of us… our insecurities or our pride, however we divide ourselves to think we are less-than or above…

The temptation to prove ourselves. To show authority, greatness, glory. “If they could just see me, know me, understand me… then they would follow me, because I can fix this…”

These may sound like the thoughts of a narcissist. But I think we all think them sometimes. “If only they could see it my way…”

How much more tempting for Jesus that in his case it was actually true! He did know how to fix all of humanity. He had the cure….

But no miracle will force people follow him. He must suffer all the violence humanity heaps upon him and painfully die because he will not escape the brokenness of humanity. He must go through it all, endure it all, to heal it. And even when he is raised from the dead, many will not follow, and many more will claim to follow but fall short. The temptations of the ways of violence and exclusion will still hinder us. We will still give into them.

There are no shortcuts. There is a light, and a profound breaking open of the heart, and a cruciform path, and a Model who shows us the Way. But it is stumbling step after stumbling step. It is hard work. It is a facing of all of our weaknesses. It is a bombardment of temptations on all sides calling from beyond the path, telling us there are easier, quicker, better ways… to peace, justice, fulfillment. Ways around the suffering. Or ways that take us through the suffering of some but blind us to the suffering of others. Ways that don’t put us at risk. Ways that don’t sacrifice our comfort.

But the WAY we follow, the Fully Human One we follow, doesn’t lead us through shortcuts. Jesus leads us through all of the mess of humanity, and waits for us, or comes to find us, when we stray. We wander. The long path becomes longer every time we veer off course. And we will continually. But we are never too late to come home.

Lent is about the hard work of following the cruciform path. The light of full inclusion that we saw in the transfiguration guides us, but now it is time to actually get into the thick of it, facing our fears and doubts and our prides and prejudices, seeing God in every human face, even those we’d rather not look at, and transforming ourselves, or humbling ourselves to be transformed, so that the world can be rebuilt at an atomic — or Adamic — human — level. It will be slow work, difficult work. But Love sustains us all along the way.

What shape do our temptations take? What path will our repentance take? How can we encourage each other and uplift one-another along the journey? How will we keep the light of Christ ahead of us?

Let’s talk, and work, together. Join us on Ash Wednesday at 10 CT on the Raven FB page.

Whether you’re a minister preparing your Sunday sermon or a lay person trying to better understand the Bible, whatever you believe, question, or doubt, we warmly invite you to participate with comments and questions as we seek to grow our virtual community. Your presence is more than an honor and a blessing – it’s a necessity! Since we are interdividual beings, growing in relationship with one-another, we need each other! Your participation is an integral part of the Girardian Virtual Bible Study!

Image: “Christ in the Desert,” by Ivan Kramskoi. Google Cultural Institute. Public Domain.

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