In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus is fasting in the desert, where he is tempted by the devil for 40 days. Jesus of course resists every temptation–temptations for food, temptations for power, temptations to test God and make a dramatic spectacle.
This is an apt beginning to the 40 days of Lent, our own journey of sacrifice and resisting temptation–a time to prepare our hearts and grow in the love of God. Just as Jesus spent his time in prayer and preparation before beginning his ministry, we dwell in somber reflection and growth approaching Easter. Let us continue in that preparation.
Today’s passage can seem kind of weird. Jesus is in his hometown and he’s surrounded by so many people that he and his followers can’t even eat. Then his family head to get him because people are saying he is crazy. Meanwhile some teachers of the law from Jerusalem claim he is using the power of Satan to cast out demons. Jesus points out what a nutty idea that is–saying there’s no way Satan would cast out demons–it would be like fighting against himself.
“I want you to know that people can be forgiven for all the sinful things they do. They can even be forgiven for the bad things they say against God.But anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. They will always be guilty of that sin.”
Forgive me for mentioning both politics and Facebook (sometimes there is just too much of both), but my politics are deeply informed by my being a follower of Jesus, so I can’t help that they sometimes intersect. I recently posted this on Facebook, and it seems relevant to this scripture passage.
I’ve been thinking about blasphemy. As a young evangelical, I thought blasphemy was putting a cross in urine or maybe dressing up like Jesus and doing the polka. But now I believe blasphemy is to proclaim God while doing evil–like Jeff Sessions smirking as he quoted the Bible to defend yanking children from their parents. I also remember that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” seemed to mean you shouldn’t say “Goddamn” or “Oh my God!” (Honestly it was still hard to type that.) But taking the Lord’s name in vain is more likely to mean saying God is on your side when you are oppressing people and trampling the poor.
I had forgotten that I just heard this in the Gospel reading a couple weeks before I wrote that, but maybe that was part of why it was somewhere in my mind.
So here in the original passage it was that the teachers of the law were calling the good Jesus was doing in the name of God evil instead. I still think the reverse is also true–doing evil and calling it good and Godly.
We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.” Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.
Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:
Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me.Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it.It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost.You could never pay enough to buy back your life.
So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?
I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:
The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.
I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.