Earning the Title (1st Lent C)
“Earning the Title”
1st Sunday in Lent, C - March 10, 2019
Head Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington, right) and Defensive Coordinator Bill Yoast (Will Patton, left) celebrate a victory for the T.C. Williams Senior High School Titans.
After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Jesus’ temptation is the biblical inspiration for the whole season of Lent. Just as Jesus fasted for 40 days before his public ministry began, we fast for 40 days before our remembrance of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. This explains why we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness every year on the first Sunday in Lent. It’s an extremely important event in Christian history.
But it’s not only an inspiration for us to fast and behave well. Our take-aways should be more than “Jesus fasted and so fasting is good” and “Jesus resisted temptation so we can too.”
For one, Jesus fasted harder than we do. The text says that he “ate nothing at all during those [forty] days.” That’s not a fasting program that I recommend for anyone. It’s pretty unattainable and can be physically dangerous if you actually do it. Jesus also faced stronger temptations than any of us really face. The devil appeared in a visible form and led Jesus all over the country from the desert east of the Jordan to the top of a mountain to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem. I’ve certainly never traveled that far with the devil holding my hand.
But, you might say, that’s because Jesus is some kind of super-human, right? Well, not exactly. We can talk about Jesus’ being both fully God and fully human (and how that’s not the same thing as being super-human) some other time. But for now, I’ll say that Jesus’ temptation isn’t just as a moral example for us to imitate. It’s much deeper and richer than that. In the temptation, Jesus made choices that confirmed and solidified his identity as the true Son of God. Jesus’ Temptation should make us fall on our knees in thanksgiving.
Have you ever seen Remember the Titans? It was a movie released in 2000 about the football team at T.C. Williams Senior High School in Alexandria, VA. It’s based on a true story about the team’s season in 1971, its first year after the three segregated high schools were consolidated into one integrated high school. As a compromise, the school board hired Herman Boone, a successful black coach (played by Denzel Washington), as head coach and Bill Yoast, a successful white coach (played by Will Patton), as the defensive coordinator.
Early in the film, during the summer, before school begins, the black players meet together to celebrate Coach Boone’s hiring. Then they meet all the white players who came from the other high schools, who have been talking with Coach Yoast. Coach Boone is the head coach. He has been named so by the school board and his ascension to that post has been celebrated by the entire black community in Alexandria. But half of his team doesn’t accept his leadership. They know that he is the head coach, but they don’t know him or trust him (blinded as they are by their racism and prejudice).
All the players assume that Coach Boone is going to favor the black players and discriminate against the white ones. That makes the black players excited and the white players angry and skeptical. But as it turns out, Coach Boone is tough on everyone. He demands a high standard of excellence from every player and tries to lead the team based on the merits of their work ethic and performance, not the color of their skin.
During their really intense training camp, they see that Coach Boone is not going to descend into their squabbles. He won’t let them travel on buses segregated by race. Instead, he forces the buses to divide between offense and defense. He’s not kinder to black players. He’s tough and mean to all of them. And eventually, when the kids are more tired than they’ve ever been, they learn to work together toward their common goal. Because they started to trust their coach and trust each other, they could focus on winning games over in-fighting.
In Luke 3:22, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River and God the Father says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus has received his title. He has been affirmed in his calling and vocation as the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world.
Like Coach Boone, Jesus was named and appointed to a position of leadership at his baptism. He is the Son of God. But also like Coach Boone, Jesus still needs to win over his players. He need to live into that title, to show us that the God-nature will win out over the temptation to sin like any human being would. The temptation in the wilderness is a test of how Jesus will use his authority. Will he love all of creation by showing kindness, mercy, and peace to all? Or will he abuse and manipulate his power to feed his own selfish desires? The devil tempts him in such a way that if he goes in the wrong direction, he might fail at his God-given mission.
Jesus could have trusted in his own might. He could have bent the laws of physics to satisfy his every hunger. He could have bent the knee and sworn fealty to the devil in order to become the political ruler of all the kingdoms of the world. He could have flown through Jerusalem on the wings of angels to show off his power and glory. But Jesus would not do any of that.
Jesus did not cut corners or cheat his way into being the Messiah and Savior of the world. He did not succumb to the basest vision for kingship. He was the anointed one, the King of the Jews, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. But Jesus did not take those titles and positions in history. He did not lead a violent overthrow of Pilate, Rome, or any other kingdom of the world. Instead, he accepted that his kingship would begin with peace and love; it would start as a spiritual seed that would grow and blossom into a historical reality in God’s time.
Jesus chose the right path here, the path of love and compassion over greed and violence. He chose to follow God’s righteous way instead of the devil’s selfish one. And so he proved that he was no mere human leader. He proved that he is God in the flesh and that God is love. Through the temptation, Jesus continues his saving work in the world.
Had he chosen the devil’s path, there would have been no cross and no resurrection; no revolution over the powers of sin and death that trap and ensnare the whole human race. Instead, Jesus would have been just another dictator, who rules with an iron fist. Even a nicer despot can’t help but crush and exploit the weak, spreading violence, suffering, and hate, rather than faith, hope, and love.
So as we begin the season of Lent, give thanks to God. Thank God that Jesus made it through these temptations. Thank God that we have a loving, liberating, and life-giving Savior who isn’t just a nicer version of us. He flips the whole system of human society, government, and religion on their heads. Our Jesus leads a revolution of love that begins with his choice to do what so few human leaders ever have: refuse to abuse his powers. Thanks be to God.
Davis, D. Mark. “Twice Led, Not Fed, Well Read.” Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published February 2013. Accessed 7 March 2019. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2013/02/twice-led-not-fed-well-read.html.
Remember the Titans. Directed by Boaz Yakin. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Chad Oman. Screenplay by Gregory Allen Howard. United States: Buena Vista Pictures, 2000. DVD.