No one knows this better than the diabolical one (diabolos) that ancient practitioner of word twisting, doubt and deception, the ultimate cosmic spin doctor. The diabolical one, who has been working since Genesis 3 (see especially Genesis 3:1,4-5) and who will continue this career in the future (see Luke 22:31, "Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat .... "), now spins out for Jesus the virtual reality of a successful, fulfilling ministry.
Could the timing be better? While Jesus is still wet from his baptism and led by the Spirit, but before he has preached his first sermon, performed his first miracle, called his first disciple, the diabolical one engages Jesus in a career counseling conversation: What will be the nature and shape of your ministry? Naturally, this question is not addressed to Jesus alone, but also to the ekklesia, the called out ones, the church.
Rev. Michael Poellet
King of Glory Lutheran Church,
209 Fairmont Dr.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7M 5B8
As in the wilderness Israel struggles with being a faithful people, so too does Jesus, and so too does his church. In this moment of struggle the diabolical one appears and says, "Think of the possibilities!" So much potentiality is packed in that little conditional word "if." (See Luke 4:3,7,9). This little "if" contains all the hopes and dreams of success and fulfillment. Through these "ifs" the diabolical one tries to incarnate personal and social satisfaction (the first temptation), political power and control and the honor and glory that go with them (the second temptation), and religious and spiritual illumination and fulfillment (the third temptation).
Each temptation to virtual reality coincides with incidents from Israel's Exodus-wilderness experience and Jesus' response with scripture quotations from Deuteronomy (specifically Deuteronomy; 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16 respectively) juxtaposes the faithless wanderings of Israel to the faithful following of God.
Why not turn stone into bread? why not, Israel sighs with nostalgia, return to slavery and the "fleshpots of Egypt"? Although the old ways enslaved us, we were fed. What harm could it do when it feeds the hungry? Jesus responds that it is God's creating, life-giving, and liberating word that provides for us and sustains us. Is that our reality?
Why not, Israel prudently and practically asks, follow the gods and practices of our neighbours in this land? After all, these gods and these ways seem more powerful, productive, and profitable than the ways of the God who, indeed, freed us from Egypt, but seems to have freed us for a marginal status and downward mobility among our rivals and competitors, what harm could it do to use the tried and true practices of this world and its gods of economics and power in order to achieve the common good for all our people? Jesus responds that a worship and service that is not debilitating, subjugating or death - loving can only be rendered to the God who through love and promise, not coercion and threat, faithfully accompanies us in ways that work for justice and shalom and well-being. Is that our reality?
Why not, Israel boasts as Massah and Meribah, demand that God give us water to drink? Is it not our spiritual superiority, our worship, our prayers, our very faithfulness that keep God as God or necessarily make God feel "godly"? This really isn't a faith that coerces God, it is merely invoking God's supernatural power to simply show all who God is. Jesus responds that longing for the proof and display of God's power only reveals our own self-centredness and not God's graciousness. It is a misuse and abuse of God, not keeping God holy in our lives of faith. Is that our reality?
What is so deceptive about the diabolical one's vocational guidelines and expectations for ministry is that the real temptation is not to fail or fall, but to succeed, to rise. Did not the slippery one promise the woman in Genesis 3:5, "... you will be like God, knowing good and evil?" This hardly seems like ruin. Flaunting miracles, power, and spiritual superiority does seem to promise all the success and achievement one prays for in any mission development endeavor. Imagine the response when these results are reported at the Annual General Meeting of the congregation. Is that our reality?
The personal and social aggrandizement, the political and ecclesial power and glory, the spiritual and religious superiority are rejected by Jesus as empty promises, diabolical dreams, perilous possibilities. God's response to human need, Jesus will go on to show, is the way of the cross. Our ministry, our mission, our reality is cruciform.
About every six weeks I get together with my friend Lamont who "buys" me lunch. We go to the Friendship Inn -- the "soup kitchen" in Saskatoon that provides about 450 meals a day plus other services. Lamont used to be a systems analyst for a high tech business in Saskatoon. But, when he was "let go" in the company's downsizing efforts to buoy up the bottom line, he "crashed." He has been in and out of mental institutions and wandered in to King of Glory about 18 months ago "seeking sanctuary" from the CIA and FBI who were trying to kidnap him and steal the patent rights to his inventions.
Today at lunch an old man with dark-circled eyes, 3 or 4 teeth left, and a grizzled beard is close enough to us that he listens in on our conversation. The old man begins to muse about religion to himself and, then, he suddenly turns and asks Lamont, "You been saved?"
"I came to Christ in 1993." Lamont responds.
The old man seems satisfied and we return to our conversation. But, after a few minutes the old man again turns to Lamont and says, "But, you ain't got no job. Maybe", he adds, "maybe you're only half-saved."
Lamont, like many in our community, can announce "I've been saved" and in the same breath add, "Ain't got no job," "Ain't got no food," "Ain't got no clothes for my kids for school." The temptation is real to succumb to thinking Lamont, at best, is only half-saved, or not worth the time and money to keep saving. He is not profitable or productive for either society or the church. Lamont will never enable any mission or ministry to succeed.
Faced with all the temptations concerning the nature and shape of ministry and faced with Lamont, Christ comes to us and lifts up the cross. The cross is not Christ's projection of death, but his invitation to life. The cross shows how God out-loves and thus out-lasts the temptations and powers of economic greed, power politics, and even church loyalties. The cross and the Word of life that flows from it testify that the only real power is the strangely hidden, non-violent, non-coercive power of God-love and new life. What Christ has won for us on the cross is precisely the authority to say to Lamont and to all the half-saved that you are wholly in, with, and under God's freely given, unfailing love. No one is forgotten, no one is neglected, no one is deprived. All are welcome, all are nourished, all are saved.
-- Rev. Michael Poellet
King of Glory Lutheran Church, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan