Over ten years ago, there was a different reality show (when reality shows were still fairly new) called Temptation Island. They took four “committed couples”, people who had been going together or living together for several years and offered them this package. They got a vacation at a tropical resort in Belize, which is in Central America, and the men of the couple had to stay in a resort with 13 women who were uncommitted; the women had to stay in another resort with 13 men who were uncommitted. They couldn’t communicate directly with their partner except by video and once a week they were given the chance to see the other doing stuff with the singles. They had a series of arranged dates with the single people of the island doing stuff like scuba diving, and rock climbing, etc., and after hours they could do what they wanted to. They could block certain singles from their partner and every so often the men voted one of the single men off the island and the women voted a single woman off the island (sound familiar). At the end of the show they brought the couples back together, and they decided if they would stay a couple or not.
After all was said and done, they didn’t succeed in breaking anybody up. One couple was kicked out of the show because they hid the fact they had a child together from the producers, and the other three chose to stay together despite all the good times they had with these attractive singles. That sounds less than exciting. I would also ask, like the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live about who was the executive producer of the show, Satan?
Well, our temptations don’t come at exotic resorts from beautiful people who’ve dedicated themselves to getting our attention, as much as we might like that. Jesus’ temptations didn’t. He spent 40 days in the desert: a dry, inhospitable place where existence is difficult and where your most difficult adversary is yourself. Left in all that space, with no input, no distractions, you come face to face with yourself after a while. Fasting for 40 days brought him to the edge between life and death: that’s about how long somebody can go without food before starving to death. 40 days should remind you of other things: Noah’s flood, Moses’ time on Mt. Sinai, Jesus’ time between his resurrection and ascension. And the Devil comes, and he doesn’t tempt him with things we could call pure vice; he didn’t come with wine, women and song. The Devil tempts him to use his power, to use power that in some cases is the power that he is going to use in the course of his ministry. Someone who can multiply loaves and fishes could surely turn rocks into stone; someone who could call people to leave their nets and their lives by the seashore and walk untouched through hostile crowds is someone who could rule the whole world; someone who could walk on water and raise people from the dead could fly if he wanted to. The Devil offers him Scripture: that’s where Shakespeare got the phrase, even the devil can quote Scripture for his own purpose. So why doesn’t he do it?
One reason I’d like to offer you is that Jesus is being tempted to use his power for selfish reasons. He’s asked to turn stone into bread to feed himself, and he’s about to starve. He’s offered the world as a man who is a nobody from a nowhere town that no-one had ever heard of’ someone who is truly powerless. He’s being asked to prove that God exists just to satisfy a need to show off. He’s being asked to look after himself; to use his power for his own ends. And in every case Jesus refuses.
When we consider the things that tempt us, we usually don’t get exotic temptations. Sometimes the wild and crazy ones are the easiest to avoid: it’s the ones that come from our strengths to act for ourselves first that are tough to say no two. The temptations to do the right things for the wrong reasons are the most difficult to resist. We are called to turn stone into bread in order to feed the hungry, not ourselves. We’re asked to refuse to exercise our power in order that the oppressed may be freed and that we may be able to empower them. We’re being asked to keep from testing God so we can get away from arbitrary points about the nature of God or to keep away from petty posturing so we can attend to the real things of life, and so that we can walk by faith. We may on a tropical island of tickling our own sensations, or we may be in a desert of ourselves generated by our jealously at what we haven’t gotten that others have. As we examine our consciences in Lent, the root of a lot of our problems come from selfishness and our temptation to use our God given gifts for the wrong reasons.
We take Jesus’ life and teaching as example, and the most impressive example of unselfishness is what we’re going to celebrate in another five weeks. Unselfishness is why in our Lenten trinity of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving that the last is so important: giving to others keeps us from being pulled into ourselves and self-destructing by being obsessed on our shortcomings. We don’t have to fast: we have the manna at this table in the Body and Blood of Christ to keep us going. It’s not a tropical resort, but it leads to wonderful place where we will never leave.