Lent Sample from Last Year's Series (2022)
25 // In the Place of Stones
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.15-16).
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In these final days before Easter week, let’s return to Jesus in the desert, to reflect on his three temptations. And today, in particular, "Turn these stones to bread!"
How tempting it must have been for Jesus to cut a corner. He had the power, so why not use it? It’s funny how it's here the Tempter sets to work. (But interesting, too, as CS Lewis points out, that Jesus’ miracles would, during his ministry, tend to amplify an organic process - water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes - while his adversary's temptation, stones to bread, is more coerced, less natural, and selfish.)
No one was watching him, it wasn’t a sin, and he’d almost finished his time by now anyway. Yet clearly there was still work to be done, in focusing his hunger on God, at this desert table of the Lord.
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I’m sure we can cut our own corners in many ways. We can look for the spiritual quick fix (and feel frustrated just as quickly if our prayers don’t seem to ‘work’). We can self-medicate instead of walking a longer path to healing. We can dash off a text instead of having the conversation face to face. Let's be encouraged to stay with it!
Perhaps the pitfall for Jesus is not so much about performing trickery as selling his own humanity short for the sake of expediency; when all along, there’s something of far greater worth to be nurtured in the waiting, the silence, the hunger itself, that will propel him on to feel our every human ache and pain and joy, en route to Calvary.
For this is a moment not just of restraint, but of self-giving love for each of us. A love that, from this first, decisive point, will not waiver from its course.
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And while we might be tempted to see the stones here as a stark kind of absence, perhaps Jesus saw them differently. He must have thought of Jacob, from time to time, who slept on a rock before his extraordinary vision at Bethel, awakening as he did to see that “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
Surely the Lord is in this place of ours, even though we’d often love to turn these stones to better use.
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Jesus’ retort to the Tempter - “[Humanity] does not live by bread alone” - is straight from scripture, from Deuteronomy 8 and its recounting of the Israelites’ time in the desert, when they were ‘humbled’, ate manna and learned dependency on God.
Jesus identifies with our humanity in his dependency. Yet how delicious, having fed, himself, on God, to offer himself for us to feed upon; our manna in the desert. The ultimate 'Eastering' act, foreshadowed as it would be by turning water so generously into overflowing wine in Cana; multiplying loaves and fishes on the mountainside.
“I am the bread of life,” he says, after feeding the five thousand. “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6).
As Jesus hungers in the desert, then, it's as if he receives his fill of truest, nourishing, bread-of-life identity. God gives to him his deepest, loving self, which he, in turn, will give away.
And as we continue to wait patiently right to the end, this Lent, perhaps we, too, might glimpse a little more of who we are in God; for isn't it here, in the place of stones, that first we come to break some bread with him?
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May we find that 'Surely the Lord is in this place', today.