Fasting and Feasting
1st Sunday of Lent Luke 4;1-13
Oscar Wilde famously said “ I can resist anything but temptation” . A saying I think we can all relate to! The very nature of temptation is hard to resist ~ it is designed to make you give in. Temptation is linked with the idea of doing something we shouldn’t, something forbidden or banned. Rarely do we think of someone tempting us to do good! “Go on ! give away your best coat to that poor, cold homeless person on the street, go on!” The whispers in our mind are more likely to be encouraging us that we can get away with a lie, or eating that chocolate or drinking that alcohol we gave up for Lent. It won’t do any harm, the voice says. I am reminded of the comic book portrayal of a person being tempted - with an angel hovering one side of them and a little red demon the other side. It is portrayed as a battle between good and evil as are many of the stories in books, films, and TV dramas are.
In biblical thought temptation means to test someone to determine their worth or faithfulness. The gospel reading today was about Jesus being led into the desert by the Holy Spirit in preparation for his ministry. Luke places this event after Jesus baptism ~ the time he was acknowledged as God’s son, and God publicly proclaimed – ‘You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’. We are told Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights. 40 is a significant number in the Bible. In the flood narrative it rained for 40 days, Moses was up the mountain waiting for the 10 commandments for 40 days, Nineveh was given 40 days to repent and Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness being tested.
It was at the end of the 40 days, when Jesus was physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted that the onslaught began. The desert was not just a place full of sand – but a wilderness 35 miles long and 15 miles wide. The hills were like dust heaps; the rocks bare and jagged, and it was as hot as a furnace. The ground was littered with limestone rocks just like small loaves of bread – and it was here the tempter came. If you can satisfy your hunger just think how men and women will follow you! The bribe was there. First feed yourself then miraculously feed others then they will flock after you. He is being asked to prove who he is by using his God-given power and authority to turn the stones into bread.
Jesus responds, ‘Man does not live on bread alone’. In the second temptation Jesus is taken in his imagination to the mountain top –traditionally in the bible a place of prayer and God's presence. A shortcut or compromise is offered him that he can obtain the kingdoms of this world if he worships Satan. Jesus answered, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ Jesus came not to be served but to serve and offer his life as a ransom for many. In the third temptation Jesus is led to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem, the place where his earthly ministry would end. Again he is put to the test . What a sensational event it would be, a sky-dive without a parachute, and God sending his angels to rescue him. Yet another shortcut, a sign to prove he is the Messiah and God’s son. What a sensational way to launch his ministry! But Jesus responds again, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’. Luke ends the passage by telling us that when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. This suggests he will be back. On the cross once again Jesus is challenged by bystanders with the same temptation- ‘If he is the son of God, let him get God to come and rescue him ~ to prove he is who he says he is.’ But Jesus resists right to the end, continuing to obey and trust God ~ not demanding to be rescued from the cross.
We are at the start of the 40 days of Lent– they are a time of preparation for us as we look towards Easter with its suffering but also the glory of the resurrection. We are invited to walk with Jesus through this time. You may choose to give something up, to give the money you will save to help the poor. Or you may choose to take something extra on, to spend time in prayer or reading. Or you may choose to do nothing and just wander through the next 40 days.
I would like to challenge you today – (with an apology for those of you who heard this on Ash Wednesday.)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I call you to a Holy Fast this Lent that is to turn your back on certain things, and at the same time to a Holy Feast where we embrace something good in its place.
When we fast there is an aching void that cries out to be filled – so feast this Lent:-
Fast from worry, and feast on trusting in God.
Fast from complaining and feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives and feast on affirmatives.
Fast from anxiety and feast on prayer.
Fast from bitterness, and feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern, and feast on compassion for others.
Fast from idle gossip, and feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from judging others, and feast on Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences, and feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness, and feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness, and feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from discontent and feast on gratitude.
Fast from facts that depress and feast on facts that uplift.
Fast from anger and feast on peace.
Fast from discouragement and feast on hope.
I challenge you to learn a verse of scripture each day, write it down and put it in your pocket – let it become part of your day just as Jesus used the word of God to fight temptation so can we.
Discover afresh your identity as children of God, trust in Him for your needs to be met, and may we all commit ourselves anew to obedience and living the kingdom life.
Let us pray: God our Father, lead us not into temptation, but guide us into the pathways of justice, love and peace during this Lent. Give us the grace to be faithful to you and the courage to head the call to a Holy fast and feast.