We had our first rain of the season last week, and the first rain always fills me with a bit of trepidation. What is that wet stuff falling from the sky, and am I really supposed to go out in it? I can avoid the first rain, but in Boulder Creek, where our annual rainfall is often well over 60 inches each year, I have to learn to live with it.
In that way, the first rain of the season reminds me of baptism; there's something different going in our lives after we've been rained on and we have to deal with it. In Matthew’s gospel, the first thing Jesus does after being baptized is set off into the wild for prayer and fasting. In The Message translation Eugene Peterson titles this “The Test.” Other translations call it “The Temptation.”
In my mind, the story takes life as a music video with the band, The Temptations cast as the devil. The Temptations wear white tuxedos and holding pitchforks. While Jesus is fasting, praying and hiking, they sing with dance routines. “I’ll give you an easy way to get what God promises, just follow me,” they croon.
Then Jesus is taking a final in a classroom of students scribbling essays and bubbling answers to multiple-choice questions. They look nervous, doubtful, tapping pencils on desks, erasing answers. Jesus finishes in record time, leans back with a confident half-smile and scratches his ear with his pencil. He’s answered all the questions correctly receiving 157% for counters to the Temptation’s selective scripture quoting.
The scene would move to a garden, and the Temptations would shrivel like weeds sprayed with Roundup when Jesus finally shouts, “Beat it!”
The angels would come, floating in a bubble, like Glenda in the Wizard of Oz. The angels would be the band The Fifth Dimension. Age of Aquarius would be reworked with lyrics like, “Do not be afraid,” and “God will be there through all the good and bad, joy and grief.”
The angels would disappear, and Jesus would wake up on the beach and hear a seagull squawk, a message that John the Baptist had been arrested and he’s needed now, to pick up John’s banner. Jesus would march through a forest with animals surrounding him, like in Snow White. The animals would wave goodbye as Jesus stepped onto the asphalt of a rural highway into a waiting bus. When it reached the big city, he’d jump off and stand in the median on a busy street, stretch out his arms and yell, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is near!”
How do tests show up for us? I’m always making choices from the mundane––which laundry detergent to buy, to the life altering––where to live. Am I asking the right questions, do I know the best answers? What if, like in multiple choice there’s more than one right answer? We’re each unique; won’t the questions and the answers be different for me than they are for you?
What about tempations? I have difficulty identifying devils. Other than no-brainers like addiction and adultery, what constitutes temptation? I simply can’t believe carbs are evil incarnate. Rather than specific temptations or tests, I can see the Scripture pattern applies to you and me as well as to Jesus. The devil, or political systems that promote injustice, or the consumer culture, or whomever is at odds with God’s plan for whole living, continually taunts us with promises, or with threats, and dangles whatever it might be that appears to fulfill all our needs and desires.
We like Jesus, have to continually say we won’t take that offer of superficial happiness, the easy route to success, power, fame, love. We must tell the temptations what we value, and in doing so we remind ourselves that nothing is gained by compromising our souls. Our lives won’t be easy. We’ll always our motives, asking whether a choice will lead us closer or further from God and a whole and healthy life.
There are days when I’m tempted to stay in bed and sleep until it is over. “It” being anything I feel inadequate to cope with. Then angels come, ordinary people like you and me, and I remember that there is room for joy and hope.
I wait for a sign, like the seagull flying over Jesus’ head, to tell me what God wants done with my life. Most of the time, the signs are like shuffling forward in a checkout line. I just have to trust I’m headed to the right counter.
We can stand in line together, you with brown rice and tofu, you with chocolate chips and celery, me with French bread and cheddar cheese, wearing my Goretex rain jacket, all of us preparing to feast with God, each of us bringing something different to the banquet.
©Cathy Warner 2006