Saturday, 9 March 2019

Lead us not into temptation

Last year, by far the earliest known evidence of bread-making was uncovered in a part of the Jordanian desert.  It pre-dates the development of agriculture by a substantial period.  Some ash and some wild barley revealed what some hunter-gatherers had been doing.

Speculation has to be built on meagre evidence like this.  Could it be that one of the root causes of initial human settlements was the discovery that weeding around such wild barley to improve access to it resulted in a better crop?

When we find later evidence of any pre-historic settlement and we notice things like a perimeter ditch or postholes for a palisade, we speculate about the family or community’s need to defend itself.

When we find pre-historic burials and we notice the care of the burial, the alignment of the bodies and the presence of grave goods, we speculate about the grief or hopes or longings or belief systems of those involved.

This all came to mind again when preparing to read Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness on another first Sunday in Lent tomorrow, and it made the reading surprisingly fresh.

Full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, considering the attractive, instinctive, human wrong paths – to create bread in the face of hunger, to dominate in the case of assault, to grasp certainty in place of faith.  Weighing these options against the crucial texts of Deuteronomy.

No need to make fire or gather grain.  Simply feed thousands and have baskets full left over.  But he knew God humbled his people, causing them to hunger and then feeding them with manna, which neither they nor their ancestors had known, to teach them that human beings shall not live on bread alone.

No need to dig or raise defensive lines.  Simply command the evil to come out of those under attack.  But he knew the warning: when God brings you into a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of slavery, worship and serve him only.

No need for grief or mourning.  Simply raise the widow’s son.  But he knew to throw himself from the temple’s wall to find out if God would do anything would be no better than those who abandoned faith a short way into the desert saying ‘were we brought here simply to die?’

So instead he will teach people to live.  Blessed are those who hunger; be worried if you are comfortable.  Blessed are those who face hateful attack; be worried if you are highly honoured.  Blessed are those who weep; be worried if you have escaped mourning.

And he will teach people to pray.  Give us bread for each day.  God’s kingdom come.  May the hallowing always be only of God’s name.  

Now he will stay fasting for while in the desert, then go out among people increasingly vulnerable, until, yes, he will let himself be thrown away in Jerusalem.

He will do it alongside the human beings who enter history seeking basic sustenance as others monopolise all the resources, longing for safety as others gain their own dominance over them, looking to make sense of it all as others bandy their political and religious certainties around them.

The pictures are not of the Jordanian or Judean deserts, but around Top Withens in the mist and drizzle a few days ago.

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