Thursday 6 March 2014

A case of mistaken identity

The season of Lent has begun.  Many people see these forty days before Easter as an opportunity to explore themselves a bit, to spend a little time "in the wilderness," as it were.  If you're doing that, I hope it's revealing and rewarding for you.

Some people like to help that self-examination along with a time of fasting or giving something up for Lent.  Some like to take something on.  There's even suggestions of an act-a-day that you could do.  Again, if you're doing that, good for you.

What have you found about yourself?

That's the important question, isn't it?  It's about identity and living true to who we are.
The story that inspires our Lenten practice is the time Jesus spends in the wilderness being tempted by satan or the devil.  Three of the four gospels tell the story (it's absent from John): after being baptized by John, Jesus spends forty days fasting in the wilderness where he's tempted.  When his wilderness experience is done, he begins his ministry. 

Last year, the History Channel produced a popular miniseries, "The Bible."  While there were questions about the telling of some of the stories, their version of the wilderness story was criticized for the appearance of the one doing the tempting, the devil.  Critics pointed out that Moroccan actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni resembled President Barack Obama.  Others suggested a Sith lord from Star Wars, while others also pointed out that he, like most of the villains in the series, looked very middle eastern while Jesus was very white and western looking.

Interesting critiques.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen the devil portrayed by Diogo Morgado.  That's the actor portraying Jesus.

No, I'm not suggesting another actor for Jesus or that I didn't like his portrayal of Jesus.  I'm suggesting the same person for both.

We tell the story as if temptation is an outside force that somehow attacks us.  Or seduces us.  As if it's something foreign or beyond us that we just have to stand up to and all will be fine.  But it wouldn't be a temptation if it weren't something inextricably linked to who we are.  That's the thing about temptation: it's familiar, it looks attractive, it draws us to it, it looks like it belongs to us.  If we knew it was evil, if we knew it was "the devil," wouldn't it be easier to resist?  Wait, maybe not easier.  But we would certainly know if it were right or wrong.

In his dialogue with the devil, each temptation begins "if you are the son of God…" and calls on Jesus to use his power.  But it's precisely because Jesus understands the true meaning of his identity that he knows how to respond.  He came for the hungry, the vulnerable and the powerless, that's what his ministry will be about.  As Jesus, Jesus is valuable, Jesus is enough.

Perhaps that's something the story tells us to work on.  It isn't just about knowing who we are, it's about knowing that's enough: we are valuable for who we are.

So much of the world tempts us with ways to "be a better you" and to "improve yourself."  We need this product or that product because it will somehow make us better or give us a better life.  We are tempted to act this way or that way that gives us a perception of power.

But God has already given us the power to be who we are, created in the image of God.  And that's all we need.