THE GOOD LIFE:
Matthew 4:1-11 The temptation of Jesus
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
THE GOLDEN AGE
Hugh Mackay, the Australian sociologist, has said recently that we 21st century westerners have a “Utopia Complex”. We are all attempting to “Live the Dream” as we say. After all, we do seem to be living in a “golden age”.
We have extraordinary medical science, an explosion of information, entertainment and communication technology, reliable and affordable transport, year-round fresh food supply, on-line shopping, even-smarter manufacturing and transport systems where we can buy live crayfish plucked out of the sea in Japan and on our restaurant dining tables within 24 hours!
Surely if we were ever going to live “the good life” it would be now?
But we are very uneasy too – both as followers of Jesus Christ and as citizens of the world as we look over the fence and see the poverty our indigenous communities, the drug fuelled violence of some of our city streets, the destruction of whole counties by decades of war, tensions in the Middle East, global food shortages and etc…. We get the sense that our “good life” is not that good after all.
LIVE THE DREAM
So what is our response? Mackay has the general sense that we are just going harder at acquiring the good life. Indeed, we of all people, who live in what we have named for ourselves “the lucky country”, Australia, may be going the hardest at acquiring the good life – using our luck to continue on acquiring our hopes and dreams to bring the good life into reality.
So, as we pursue our “Utopian fantasises” to keep safe, remain lucky and enjoy the lifestyle that we work so hard for, a question or two arise:
- Could it be that even for us Christians, who know that there is more to life than acquiring the symbols of “the good life”, there is something unhelpful going on in our lives and our country.
- Could it be that in the process of living in the lucky country and acquiring “the good life” we are in fact fuelling our dreams while limiting our vision?
- Might it be true that in the effort to live this “good life”, we are insulating ourselves from the deeper and more enduring and truthful life that the crucified Christ calls us to?
That last question is the one to ask this Lent.
- In the effort to live this “good life”, we are insulating ourselves from the deeper and more enduring and truthful life that the crucified Christ calls us to?
In this 21st century Golden Age our teeth should remain perfectly bright white, regardless of age. Our bodies should remain perfectly formed as we age and if necessary, we will make sure they do with a bit of nip and tuck.
Holidays should be extraordinary – “islands of perfection in a sea of imperfection”, says Mackay. I noticed this in WA where going to Bali, Phuket, and any other 5 star resort is becoming much more the “normal family holiday”! Gone are the days of just grabbing a tent and driving to a place and enjoying the surroundings and simple food!
Work should be fun, and if not fun then stimulating and satisfying – all the time. So should marriage and if it doesn’t quite work out that way we should aim for a perfect divorce where we behave in a civilized and responsible way to ensure that our divorce has zero impact on our kids…
And then there are the kids: Kids now should be gifted in special ways that deserve special attention and affirmation by perfectly attuned teachers who understand perfectly the high expectation so parents.
Our cars should be perfectly safe and never break down. The roads we drive them on should be brilliantly engineered so that road trauma is virtually eliminated.
The government should leave us alone to determine our own future and yet, they should fix everything for us and keep a tight control over the behaviour of other people.
”All we want tis heaven on earth. Is that asking too much?!” (Mackay, The Good Life, 9)
WHAT A SHOCK
Friends, Mackay and me might be overstating the case to make a point – but the point is still true. We are searching for this good life and we do so to operate in this Utopian fantasy land that we should never fail, suffer, have trouble, experience doubt or feel the pain of the world. As parents we are supposed to create the ‘perfect’ childhood. As marriage partners we are supposed to have the “perfect” marriage. As young people we are supposed to find the “perfect” job or career.
What a shock it is to realise that you actually can’t have everything you want, do everything you dream of or always come out a winner. What a shock to experience failure and conflict and to have that sense that you cannot fix some things.
That is the reality and as we head up this mountain with Jesus we get that message right between the eyes. The Good life in Jesus’ way included suffering, even embracing suffering…It included temptation to live a lie. It includes hunger and hardship. These are part of the Jesus’ way of living his good life. The whole tone of life is actually the giving up of the good life and the giving of self for the good life of others….
TELL HIM HE’S ‘DREAMIN’”?
Forty days is a long time – as long as Lent without food: grinding hunger without the comfort of air-conditioned spaces and easy transport and soft pillows, but hunger with sand, rocks, wind, sun and all ALONE – so alone.
This does not fit “Living the Dream” at all. Maybe we would say Jesus is “dreamin’”. For doing such a crazy thing – willingly taking the leading of the Spirit into this hard place.
And then he strikes. Evil delights in the garden of the good life. He offers the good life right there and then.
LEAVE GOD OUT OF IT
There are three temptations but they really are all one at the core. What is the temptation for the Son of God himself?
Leave God out of life. Live as if God does not exist and as though his will, his plan, his presence and his promises were of no consequence for living the good life.
- Leave God out of the need to eat and have a roof over our heads, a basic education. Use your own power to get these things in place.
- Leave God out of your human need to shine somewhere somehow. Don’t refer to God’s word on life to be a somebody, or at least be recognised for something special sometime.
- And the third temptation? To do good things in the good life, even for others and even for good intentions regardless of where the source of the power comes from. Who cares how the power to do good things comes and from whom it comes – at last we are doing something good….
But again, leaving God out of our doing – deciding to go it alone – to be judge and jury and to decide who deserves the help and who does not…to decide what is good all by ourselves without reference to God, honour for his authority and wisdom, or awareness of what the consequences can be. Playing God” we say….
WE CAN’T GO ALONG WITH THIS
Friends, as people who live in the grace of the death and resurrection of this same Jesus, who are with him in his hunger, his aloneness, his suffering on this mountain of temptation – a mountain that we know, we just cannot simply go along with “Living the Dream” of 21st century Australia. Surely we know in our bones that the pursuit of happiness, the chasing of any Utopian dream, the acquiring of the symbols of the good life as our culture defines it is selling out.
For us to continually look for holidays that are “islands of perfection in a sea of imperfection”, only give ourselves to work that is “fun” for me, or chase the perfect marriage partner for a perfect marriage, or expect that our conflicts and wrongs should not have any negative impact on others, or expect government, churches, staff, schools and everyone else to perfectly meet my needs and that of my family is like Jesus just caving in to these temptations to leave God out of the picture of our lives and just take the money and run – for now at least.
THINGS STILL BREAK
Friends, the reality is that our cars will still break down, road accidents will happen and grief and sorrow will be our companion at times. The roads will always be less than perfect just as we will always be much less than perfect and susceptible to the temptation to just drop this faith we have been given and do our own thing in life.
Friends as living people of the resurrection of Jesus – as people of his cross who know that he is human and that he suffers with us and indeed uses suffering and hunger and harsh things to test us and make us stronger in faith and love, we cannot go along with the demand to live a godless dream and want a material, easy, painless and immediate “heaven on earth”. It is not only asking too much, it is asking for things that will undo us.
FEEL THE HEAT
Friends, these 40 days, let’s go up this desert mountain together and feel the heat. Let’s stand with our Saviour as he faces off evil with us and for us with his mind of a greater plan, a grander life than any simple “Dream” of more food, more influence, more human power.
The Spirit of Jesus is calling us into the test these 40 days. He is calling us to turn our back on living the good life and to turn and face our baptismal life in him. This is a time to be tested. This is a time to let the Spirit lead us into wherever we need to be led – easy or hard, comforting or disturbing. Lent is always about that. It is the Christian time to seek Jesus’ life and not the “good life”.
We can trust that we will survive the test and this mountain. We have already been won by his death and resurrection. We have been buried with him and raised with him and our life is hidden in him. But this is a time to seek that – 40 days in our year to journey with Jesus in more intentional ways – not to earn his favour or be “good” or be “spiritual” but to be with him.
As we seek him and pray to him and hear him in his word and even dice with hunger by abstaining from the good things for him, he will give us much more than the “good life”, he will give us his life. Amen
- Share your thoughts on “the good life” and our pursuit of it? Do you think people are pursuing the “perfect life”? Do you think people really expect that life will not have much hardship or trouble? Do you think that your friends and family are striving to make a “good life” for themselves? If so, what kind of things are they pursuing? What kind of things do you thing they hold to be very, very important?
- Read the text carefully noting down what strikes you, fires your imagination or raises a question and note these down. Then share these in the group.
- What are the three temptations Jesus faces? I said leaving God out of life was the only one rally – but in three areas of life: 1. Food and shelter and basic needs of life, 2. Our need for affirmation and recognition to be healthy and well, 3. Our desire to live a “good life” under our own steam – not at all caring about where “good” comes from. Do you agree/disagree? Share your thoughts…
- Lent is that time to be with Jesus in his temptation, his suffering, his struggle to accomplish freedom and salvation for all of us. The ancient Christian way to prepare for Easter has been to give, to pray and to fast in some ways.
- What do you think the Lord is calling you to engage in these forty days? Share your thoughts.