The series CHRIST IN THE WILDERNESS by British artist Stanley Spencer, was painted between 1939 and 1954 during a difficult time of personal conflict in the artist’s life. In great poverty he sealed himself in a bare room in London to create his proposed 40 square panels depicting each day that Christ spent in the wilderness. The original idea was that each work would be displayed in turn during Lent. Spencer completed only 18 sketches. The Art Gallery of Western Australia acquired 16 of them. Only eight paintings were completed. The artwork shown here (detail) is called ‘Driven by the Spirit’.
‘Tempted/tested by greed, power and pride’
Bible study prepared by Andrew
Thursday March 10, 7pm
Meeting ID: 813 9881 9980
Reading: Luke 4:1-13
Related texts: Psalm 91; Romans 10:8b-13
“If you are God’s Own, command this stone to turn into bread.” “Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it will all be yours.” “If you are God’s Own, throw yourself down from here, for scripture has it, ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you …’”
“The word of God gives us bread too. Because in a community some might have bread and others might not. And if there’s love we share it and we all eat. If there isn’t any love, even though there’s a lot of food people will be hungry because a few people will hoard the food” (Marcelino, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“The word that God speaks is love …” (Oscar, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“We are shaped by our practices. By praying, by fasting (from consuming in various ways) and by giving alms we grow close to the wonder of creation; we are emptied of things that usually fill our bodies, our hands, our thoughts, our time; we become focused on the Other who is in need and open to the Spirit. Temptations may be perceived and resisted” (Miriam Pepper).
We begin with reference to Psalm 91: “Adonai, my refuge …; my God in whom I trust.” God says: “I will be with you in trouble; I will deliver you and honour you.” It’s the psalm the devil cites.
We might wonder at Jesus’ understanding of the psalm. Whatever he makes of the promise of refuge and protection, he is wary of putting God to the test. He is wary of a simplistic interpretation.
He is wary of its application as a license to thrill. Perhaps he’s also wary of its use as an excuse for inaction, timidity, that is, self-protection in the face of real challenges, real problems, real life.
It’s certainly a psalm with some appeal for the immature, the entitled and the timid-conservative.
Indeed, each of the temptations – to greed, power and pride – entails individualism. Only a self-absorbed spirituality naively claims divine protection in a world where so many call on the name of God – the name of Justice, the name of Mercy. Faith doesn’t insulate believers from reality, though at times we might desire such a thing.
No. Jesus is claiming something other than special treatment. He is claiming a humanity at one with the suffering hope of the world, and at one with the suffering love of God. He shows his human side, as several commentators point out, and thus makes his and our divinity possible.
If there’s a refuge here, it’s a refuge from individualism, from cut-throat competition. It’s a refuge – born in solitude, yes – and yet a place where distinctions between Jew and Greek (Romans 10:5-15), male and female, rich and poor, insider and outsider matter less than the common good, solidarity, relationship.
“Adonai, my refuge …; my God in whom I trust” is the cry of all who desire refuge, all who desire peace with justice. Can we hear that? In the silence, in the desert, in the Holy Spirit? Is this what Jesus hears? Something like this – the psalm is the cry of all who desire refuge, of all who desire peace with justice.
ABNER: “Christ is saying to the devil, ‘You don’t know what I want, you don’t understand my journey’. There’s a temptation to easy spirituality. I don’t want that.”
STEVE: “Jesus gives us strength to resist temptation – strength to keep trying.”
JANE: “On our own, we fail. In the Spirit’s power, we can overcome temptations.”
ABNER: “The strength is found in vulnerability – vulnerability with others.”
GRANT: “This episode in the gospels is there to show us something. What if this passage were not there? What would be missing?”
ANDY: “When it comes to justice, I wonder what is the temptation to vengeance, and what kind of justice makes for peace?”
In the desert, Jesus discerns the way of love – amid temptations to greed, power and pride.
Discernment sometimes entails choosing between good and evil (the analogy would be Jesus and the devil), but often entails choosing between the good and right/timely options (the analogy is Jesus and the Holy Spirit).
Greed, power and pride – even these seemingly obvious evils can be subtle tests.
There is, after all, a time to eat and to practise self-care. There is spiritual power, confidence, creativity. There is God-given pride, dignity.
Luke tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom … Jesus paid attention. He learned patience, valued the process of learning; open to surprise, discovery, new possibilities for himself and for others. He learned to recognise goodness in himself and in others – to apply the right word in the right way and in the right moment.
Jesus knew the stirrings of vocation and allowed time and space for discernment. Did he enjoy the process?
The desert, ecologically rich, can be a symbol for a certain emptiness – the emptiness of the Sabbath, the emptiness of the Communion chalice, the “gap” between the persons of the Trinity, the heart and womb of Sarah, of Mary, the tomb in the garden … holy and expectant souls of every time and place.
The desert can be a symbol for the self-emptying of love, the self-emptying of mercy, the self-emptying of play, the self-emptying of silence …
We watch and wait in this desert with Jesus, Beloved of God.
ANDREW: “The Greek word peirasmos means temptation, test, trial. James 1:13 says that God cannot tempt anyone. Pope Francis has suggested that a better English translation of the Lord’s Prayer petition would be ‘Do not let us fall into temptation’ … and we also pray, ‘Save us from the time of trial’ or ‘Save us in the time of trial’. What do we understand by this period of testing or trial? Might peirasmos connote an opportunity for learning – for discerning the spirits, toward deeper wisdom?”
ANDY: “So, not all power is evil. Pride isn’t always a sin … the gospel invites discernment …”
ABNER: “Trials will always happen. It’s about being honest with ourselves and also not condemning others. Can we have the wisdom to appreciate the struggles that people experience. We don’t always know why someone acts in a certain way.”
STEVE: “What does it mean for Jesus to be open to new possibilities? How does this relate to other people’s growing in faith and wisdom? We’re not all the same.”
DANIELLE: “Did Jesus enjoy the process? I think about other learning opportunities – do I enjoy study and writing essays? It’s about having a larger notion of enjoyment.”
The psalms are conversations with God into which we are drawn – messily, restlessly, not without joy – for the sake of the world God loves (Walter Brueggemann). We are oriented, disoriented, reoriented – held close and held open to the love, the justice, the peace, the mercy, the God who is to come.
In the desert, Jesus is keenly aware – and becomes keenly aware – of the Spirit. He knows that he is God’s Beloved.
And the good news is this: he chooses to respond to this love, with love for others. “[Jesus] chose an open relationship full of criticisms, challenges, denunciations and disappointments, a relationship with God and all of us, over the perfectionist fantasies that were part of him, as they are part of us (Nancy Rockwell).”
Beloved-ness, we might say, is an embracing, not a sorting. There is no distinction between Jew and Greek … old and young, worthy and unworthy.
A testing, a desert exam, has to do with knowing yourself to be accepted, cherished, loved – and then understanding this in terms of all the cries for love, all the longing for love in the world. Your desert exam is yours alone, but you are not alone.
Song (thanks to Danielle)
“You got a reaction / You got a reaction, didn’t you? / You took a white orchid / You took a white orchid, turned it blue // Get behind me / Get behind me now, anyway / Get behind me / Get behind me now, anyway …”
‘Blue Orchid’ (J. White), The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan, 2005.
ANDREW: “The blues is a means of holding together personal, political and spiritual concerns … it’s about resisting oppression and despair. The song evokes questions around greed, power and pride – refusing seductive blue orchids, inauthentic blue orchids …”
JANE: “Toxic blue orchids.”
DANIELLE: “White orchids may symbolise purity … blue-purple might mean royal, worldly power.”
ANDREW: “A subtle testing/teasing to do with the blues itself? Appropriations good and bad?”