In Matthew’s account of the temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11), the tempter suggests that God’s beloved son will be satisfied, protected, and, for a small price, politically powerful. Jesus rejects these suggestions. Throughout his life, he identifies with those who are hungry, suffering, vulnerable, humble, and powerless (see, e.g., Matthew 25:31-46 among many other examples), and he teaches not that the healthy, wealthy, and powerful are favoured by God, but the sick, poor, suffering, and humble.
As members of a mostly middle class congregation, many of us are presented with invitations, opportunities, and possibilities which promise satisfaction, pleasure, and an increase in power and status. These things are not bad in and of themselves. However, such opportunities often echo the temptations of Christ and so, before accepting any such opportunity, we must exercise discernment.
What, then, are the hallmarks of a beloved child of God, and how might they shape our discernment? What follows is our group brainstorm:
- People who know that they are God’s beloved draw their security from God’s love and nothing else – not wealth, not power. They have no need to prove their identity; they can be like the lilies in the field, who neither toil nor spin (Matthew 6:28-30).
- Jesus’ sonship was not about signs and wonders, although they occurred. It was only in the moment of absolute powerlessness and death that he was recognised as the Son of God (and by a Roman centurion, not a religious insider). This suggests that we show ourselves to be children of God when we do not amass power, but relinquish power for the sake of others.
- Knowing we are loved by God helps us to love others, even when it’s hard or in difficult spaces, or involves self-sacrifice. (We lose our life for the sake of the gospel to gain it.)
- Many of us struggle with all the things that need to be done. We feel impelled to work harder, try harder, strive harder: but the Beatitudes remind us that we are not blessed for our achievements or striving, but only when we recognise our poverty before God.
- Someone observed that they felt most beloved at the sickest and weakest time of their life: that, in their absolute necessity, they rested in the joy of God’s Word, and that joy was all-encompassing.
- People who know themselves beloved don’t need to prove anything or show off. Instead, they are humble; they happily take the lowest seat at the banquet (Luke 14:10).
- Jesus did not put on airs or stand on his dignity with the Accuser. He did not say, “Well, I’m the Son of God!” nor did he say, “Well, I think this!” Instead, he knew God’s Word and followed the Spirit’s lead. We would do well to do likewise.
- We observed that knowing God’s Word is essential but not enough, since the tempter used God’s Word to try and lure Jesus in. Following the Spirit’s lead – and that means seeking the sense of invitation, freedom, and spaciousness – is imperative. (You can read more about discerning the spirits here.)
- A big question for many of us is how to let our needs be met, rather than striving to fulfil our own needs. So many of our ‘solutions’ are about human striving. We have no real answer to this question!
In summary, in this overbusy overachieving middle class congregational context, knowing we are God’s beloved is an invitation to rest. We can stop striving, do only the work we are called to do (and no more), and be satisfied even when that work is small and humble. Those of us who have personal power are challenged to relinquish it; and those of us who have wealth may find it particularly difficult to acknowledge our poverty, rely on God, and allow God to meet our every need. While dwelling richly in God’s Word is vital, letting ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit is imperative since the tempter uses God’s Word to put us off track.
A final (paraphrased) word from Julian of Norwich, which someone remembered over dinner:
My, how busy we become when we lose sight of how God loves us.
Year A Lent 1: 1 March 2020. A Sanctuary conversation. Image credit: Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash.
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