1 Lent (1 March 2020)
JoAnn A. Post
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
All that we need, we already have.
Easy for me to say, isn’t it? Loving family. Safe home. Meaningful work. Faithful friends. And, as I was recently informed by a complete stranger, good bone structure. (I’m not sure if that was a compliment or a diagnosis.) What more could a middle-aged pastor want?
But it has not always been the case, at least I have not always had all those things.
This month I see my oncologist for my annual post-cancer check-up. I’m tempted to cancel the appointment since I feel so well, and because the cancer for which I was treated—years before you and I met—has been long silent.
Surprisingly, that diagnosis, that year of treatment, now eight years ago, keeps coming to mind. I interviewed candidates for internship here next year, and one of them asked about it. A recent diagnosis of cancer in my pool of friends reminded me. Yesterday we hosted a funeral for a woman not much older than I, felled by pancreatic cancer.
I normally go weeks, if not months, without thinking about my cancer, but these days it is very present.
For a year, I was away from work—too weak to do much of anything. For a year, my body daily betrayed me. For a year, my home felt alternately like a haven and a prison. For a year, I kept friends at bay, so focused on my own sorrows. It was hard. Some of you have lived that year, as well.
But that long year of treatment was also surprisingly confirmatory. It is not often the pastor has her public teaching challenged so personally. Do I really believe all the stuff I say to you? That year I learned that, yes, I do. Even then, in that wilderness of treatment, I believed what I still believe today: all that I need, I already have.
The other reason my long-ago illness has come to mind, believe it or not, is this gospel reading. I wonder if Jesus didn’t experience in his wilderness what I experienced in mine. Jesus, still wet behind the baptismal ears, newly-anointed Son of God, was tossed into an isolated desert region like a piece of trash. Left to wander alone, without food or friends, Jesus had nothing. Or, at least, that’s how it looks from the outside. And how it might have seemed, sometimes, to him.
Regardless of the reason for his Spirit-mandated quarantine, or his own assessment of the situation, when Jesus’ solitude was broken, it was not by the voice of an old friend with clean clothes or a food truck offering a hotdog, the Chicago Way. It was an insidious voice, a dangerous voice, a diabolical voice. It was Satan, who pads through the shadows like a panther. Always lurking, difficult to see. It was that purring voice that greeted Jesus at the end of his sojourn.
And Satan’s first words to a famished Jesus?
“All that you need, I already have.”
It’s not hard to imagine what Jesus might have needed after 40 days and 40 nights without a cup of coffee, without a shower, without his I-phone. But Satan seemed to know better. Satan peers more deeply. Satan knew that those obvious needs were ephemeral, easily met by just about anyone. Jesus’ true needs were deeper.
If Jesus is anything like us, he needed to be fed. He needed to know he mattered. He needed to know he was not a victim but a champion.
Satan promised to remedy all those ills. Bread finer than from any French bakery. Stadiums full of fans. Land and possessions and power. It would have been tempting.
But there are two things wrong with Satan’s calculations, two reasons Jesus didn’t jump, didn’t bite, didn’t bow.
First, none of those things—food, prestige, power—is Satan’s to give. The dark powers of the world have nothing that we need, no real power over us. Who was Satan to make those promises?
Second, and more important, none of those things is what Jesus really needed.
You see, all that Jesus needed, he already had.
And he gives it, today, to us.
I can’t know what it is that prowls like a panther at the edges of your dreams. The wilderness in which you wander. The voice that calls to you from the shadows.
But I know what those things are for me. And I know how easily they overtake. But I am convinced that all I need, I already have.
Not everyone can say that.
This Lent we’re multiplying our efforts to both learn about and alleviate homelessness. Those homeless vets, those troubled teens, those exhausted angels who befriend and shelter them. Do they have all they need?
This Lent we watch with the whole world as a new virus grips the globe.
This Lent we wince at the mud wrestling that is our political system.
This Lent we fret as markets tumble and those of us with pearls, clutch them.
This Lent, too many of God’s children will be tossed, like trash, into a wilderness they didn’t choose.
What are we to do, those of us blessed to have all that we need?
First, we un-clutch our pearls, and un-clench our fists.
Then? We love them. We remember them. We feed them. We share our abundance. We care for them until they have all the need. We speak to them.
Imagine, for one horrible moment, that instead of asking about the wife and kids, my oncologist hesitates, turns to the scan on the screen. Imagine, for one horrible moment, that that thing you have feared all your life knocks on your door. Imagine, for one horrible moment, that your needs go unmet.
What will we do then, we wilderness wanderers?
We will do what Jesus did at the end of his testing, we will do what the faithful have always done in times of trouble.
We will cling to the One who holds true power.
We will claim our true needs, rather than the world’s false ones.
We will remind one another that all we need, we already have.
Because we have the love of Jesus. And we have each other. What more could we need?