Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
1st Sunday of Lent
Matthew 4.1-11 :
Communities of Resistance
Begin by using the Method as outlined
Have you ever been under pressure to compromise on a matter of principle, and realised that to do or say the right thing was going to be difficult or cause trouble?
Reflection on the text
Jesus has just experienced a special moment at his baptism with a voice from heaven declaring him to be God’s ‘beloved son.’ Anointed by the Spirit for his mission as the one who will change things and bring God’s justice into the world he quickly finds the going tough. Drawn into the desert, he begins to wrestle with his vocation under God as he is put under severe pressure by Satan and, perhaps, his own nagging doubts: ‘If you are the Son of God…’( v3, 6 )
Jesus faces the temptation to abuse his relationship of trust and dependence on God - to satisfy his own appetites (v3), to compel support by spectacular miracles, abusing God’s power for short-term personal gain (v6), and to be the Messiah of popular expectation as a political liberator whilst avoiding the way of the cross, using his charisma and giftedness to gain recognition and power (v.9). These ‘opportunities’ remained throughout his ministry but he knew that none of them was consistent with God’s will. His wise responses reflect a deep understanding of the Hebrew Scripture, as he corrects each misuse of the text by placing it in its full context (‘It is written…’).
Jesus is no control freak. Eschewing the way of ‘celebrity’, he follows an alternative path offering a model of servant leadership, ultimately shown in the washing of his followers’ feet and in putting his life on the line for his friends.
This series of tests sums up the human experience of temptation from the very personal to the global level of collective existence. The evidence of God’s power in our lives isn’t seen in our ability to dominate and control people, but in our willingness to love and serve them.
- On what issues do you think that the church (or your church or community) compromises with the world and its values? What specifically can be done about it? Are there circumstances where compromise is to be preferred? If so, when and why?
- When has the church, local or wider, been tempted to use questionable methods and take short cuts? How might this have been avoided?
- In what ways are the Scriptures misused today in Christian communities? Consider some examples. What steps can your Christian community and each individual in it take to safeguard misinterpretation and misapplication of the text?
- It has been said that the more we focus our efforts to resist temptation the bigger it seems to grow. What ways, patterns, initiatives etc can help rescue us?
Re-read the passage, using different voices.
After each of Jesus’ answers, all say: ‘Your Kingdom come; your will be done.’
Do not bring us to the time of trial is an alternative to ‘lead us not into temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer. It avoids the misunderstanding that God somehow puts temptation in our way. Get someone to read aloud these words and then keep a time of silence as you think about your own areas of weakness and those of your community of faith.
Spend some time remembering those who are under pressure to compromise their faith and their fellow Christians in the world today either in silent or spoken prayer.
Pray for those under pressure living in countries governed by oppressors that they may not give in to compromise. Pray for all who suffer because they are willing to pay the price for resisting evil and injustice. Remember the martyrs of recent years.
More background information
- Jesus faced strong opposition to his good news message that a whole new society under God of love, justice, peace and freedom for all, had arrived to replace the existing order of injustice and oppression. These were dangerous times. Roman power was total at that time and Satan claims control of all the kingdoms of the world. The religious elite who control the temple support the status quo. The political and religious establishment resist God’s purpose to create a world in which self-interest and domination are a thing of the past and where humankind lives in peace and harmony with itself and with the Earth.
- No explanation is given as to who the devil is. Matthew’s community would have been aware of demons and angels, terms which were used to describe personal and social sin and evil found in institutions and structures of society that oppress and threaten God’s new order of justice. If Jesus had succumbed to the intense pressure to take the short route to glory he would have been no different from his ‘enemies.
- To offer the world an alternative vision requires that we live differently, as individuals and as communities of faith, modelling the kingdom vision that Jesus shared of a transformed society marked by right relationships of love, peace and justice.
- ‘The trick of the devil is to lure us into a shortcut that gives us fifteen minutes of fame and a lifetime of regret. Authentic Christianity is a lifetime’s task, not a crash course. Pace yourself.’ Marva Dawn