Year C Lent 1 Luke 4
Would You Take The Crown Without The Cross?
Then the sheriff asked, "What two days of the week start with the letter 'T'?" "Today & tomorrow." Replied the applicant. The sheriff was again surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.
"Now, listen carefully, who killed Abraham Lincoln?", asked the sheriff. The job seeker seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, "I don't know." The sheriff replied, "Well, why don't you go home and work on that one for a while?" The applicant left and wandered over to his pals who were waiting to hear the results of the interview. He greeted them with a cheery smile, "The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I'm already working on a murder case!"
In our Gospel reading this morning in Luke 4 it is Jesus' first day on the job. Immediately he is confronted with three major temptations. And he is confronted with this basic question: Would he take the crown without the cross?
These are the most basic temptations in life and they form the foundation for all other temptations. I would propose that when temptation comes our way; if we will pause and classify the temptation, we would be able to identify it with one of the three temptations Jesus faced. We will also be better equipped to answer Satan with the words and obedience of Christ.
This is the first Sunday in Lent. It is a time of in-depth reflection upon the passion and death of Jesus, as well as a period of repentance for both the church and for us personally. Our Lenten journey begins this year with a review of the temptation of Christ. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the Wilderness, to be in communion with God and to reflect upon his upcoming ministry. While there, Satan confronts Jesus. It is reminder to us that goodness is not synonymous with innocence. True goodness comes only after a struggle with evil.
Let's look at the three temptations:
- Stone into Bread
- Fall on the Rocks
- Serve the Wrong Master
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
Jesus was unrelenting in his forward thinking. Consider how much time he spent teaching about the kingdom of God, which was both now and not-yet. What pleasures from God are being poisoned in our lives because we cannot escape a life of constant regret - the "if onlys," "wrong turns," "yes-buts," and "sour notes" of woulda/coulda/shoulda thinking?
We've all done it: enraged or insulted, frightened or confused at someone or some situation, we have stood there sputtering and fuming or have fled in tears and tatters. Then, anywhere from five minutes to five days later, the positively perfect response, the slickest sarcasm or the healing message, floats effortlessly into our heads. There, in the privacy of our cars or offices or homes, we conduct a flawlessly executed, logically organized, stunningly articulate conversation with no one but ourselves to appreciate it.
"I coulda said...," "I shoulda said...," "I woulda said...," can be some of the bitterest phrases ever spoken.
Cognitive therapists Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf, have examined the power behind these frustrated feelings in their recent book Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes and Missed Opportunities (New York: Morrow, 1989). Freeman and DeWolf look at two questions: First, what prevents us from doing what we would, could, and should do; secondly, how do we deal with those woulda, coulda, shoulda feelings of guilt and despair, those woulda, coulda, shoulda moments in our lives? The trap most people must learn to avoid is letting past coulds, woulds and shoulds so overwhelm us that it becomes impossible to act with an eye toward a future full of "cans," "wills" and "shalls." Missed opportunities or bad decisions from long ago keep us from taking any chances or making any choices in our present for our future. Freeman and DeWolf sum up the pitfall of this failure-fixation as a good thing taken to a harmful extreme,
“Thinking about what you did is a valuable learning experience. That is how we learn to be tactful, to be careful, to be civilized...But although it is no doubt...a good idea to look back and reflect on your mistakes from time to time, it is not a good idea to continue to review those mistakes over and over and over again.” (28)
From another age comes Soren Kierkegaard's observation that most people "are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes." We are tender with ourselves, tough toward others. "But the real task," Kierkegaard added, "is in fact to be objective toward oneself - and subjective toward all others." Coulda, woulda, shoulda thinking has gone overboard the other direction. Subjectivity towards the self is replaced by hypercritical, impossibly perfectionist standards that guarantee our inability to measure up. 0thers, meanwhile, are viewed as problem-free and successful in each and every way that we are not. Coulda, woulda, shoulda thinkers have taken to the extreme the words of a church bulletin board sign: "Make peace with one's neighbors; make quarrels with one's faults."
When we are confronted by people or situations or relationships that stir up our psyche, we instinctively revert back to a response pattern programmed into us since birth. There are basically three different avenues of response open to each of us. Either we react emotionally, cognitively or behaviorally - we cry, talk or punch. Those given to over-simplification and generalization might insist that women cry, men punch, and over-educated preachers talk!
In this week's gospel lesson we can see Jesus being tested by the devil on all three of these response levels...