Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
The Quick and Easy Way
Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
The three temptations of Christ in the wilderness can serve a lot of purposes for preachers.
They can serve as a personal example of how to resist temptation which has the added benefit of requiring you to learn your scriptures really well so you can quote helpful verses when you feel tempted.
They can serve as a basis for political commentary: talking about the foundations of power in the world and the inherent evils of empires and totalitarianism as well as the risks of populism; playing to the camera to get everyone’s attention with a flashy stunt like jumping off the temple as well as the risks of self-indulgence; abusing your power to satisfy personal hungers. I wonder how many preachers used this passage to talk about Donald Trump?
Today I’d like to comment on another aspect of this series of tests. After all, that’s what temptation is: a test. In the Lord’s Prayer we say “lead us not into temptation” which is better translated as “lead us not into the time of testing”.
Jesus was about to begin a ministry based on overturning the assumptions of power that held the Roman Empire together and were taken for granted by a lot of the world. So, his temptations all tested his commitment to his new vision.
The vision of the world Jesus teaches takes time to share. People have to experience Jesus’ truths in ways that really sink in. It all has to become internal, real and accepted and that’s the very opposite of superficial. It means you can’t skim the chapter and pass the test.
There is no Quick and Easy Way to do this. Turning stones into bread is absurd when you consider the whole process of growing wheat, grinding flour, and baking bread.
Our whole society today is all about convenience. You can order food so easily and quickly that it’s not really all that different than magic. We are part of a society that celebrates short cuts: we really like to find the Quick and Easy Way to do everything. But Jesus refused.
He refused the cheap thrills of jumping off the temple to be saved by angels. Everyone would have been impressed; his video would have gone viral and he would have had countless followers who liked the miracle he had performed but who had no idea of the message he was bringing.
He also refused the offer on the mountaintop: the empires of the world with all their armies. This is the temptation Christianity has failed at over and over. We bought into the power of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire and all the subsequent world empires of Europe to the point that Protestant and Catholic missionaries competed to make indigenous peoples fit the cultures of England, France and Spain.
Giving into that temptation made us partners in Colonialism and we are still learning the full extent of the damage that this has produced.
Jesus resisted that one too – not only because of the offensive idea of worshipping Satan but because he knew it was a Quick and Easy Way that would fail. Because all the Quick and Easy Ways have one thing in common: none of them take the time needed to make the human connections that matter.
As our congregation gathers to make plans, let’s keep that in mind. We will be looking to the future and a lot of ideas will come up, not just today but over the year ahead. As we consider our options we should keep in mind the kind of choices that Jesus made, all of which avoided quick and easy solutions and instead dealt with real people taking the time needed for his profound message to sink in.
We look for quick and easy solutions when we are afraid we don’t have the time to do things properly. Depending on which gospel you read, Jesus took either three years or one year to change the world. Either way, we have more time than that. We don’t need to panic. We don’t need to rush.
Let’s follow the example of Jesus, resist our own temptations and take the time to do this right.