First Sunday in Lent, Year A
26 February 2023
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
You may or may not know that for as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a pastor, and I have always understood this desire as my calling, for in some ways it is a strange desire.
Even when I was little it was strange. In grade one, boys hung out with boys and girls with girls, and I remember that all the boys wanted to become police officers or fire fighters, save me.
Skip forward about three decades when we were in Winnipeg and things were really hard. I was still glad I was a pastor but for the first time perhaps I noticed a cross stitch my mother-in-law had made and my father-in-law had framed on which it read, “There is no greater calling in life than raising the children God has entrusted to our care.” I sensed the profound truth of it and thought about why I spent most my evenings away with council meetings that never finished in less than three hours, and with other meetings, and engagements.
I know that having had such clarity about my vocation was a profound blessing. Maybe 80 or 100 years ago people did not have choice in their vocations, they took the training (if there was any) and jobs that were offered, or took over the family farm or business. The same was true in East Bloc countries, minus the family farm or family business, as there was no private property. High school graduates did not have much choice. Their career choices were subject to the regime’s approval, which meant that if they were not showing some excitement about the regime, their choice would be more limited.
And maybe there was a benefit to that, because you did not have to agonize to make decisions that affected the rest of your life. It was just a given.
Last Sunday we observed the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when Moses and Elijah lend Jesus their support, Jesus is bathed in radiant light, and a voice from the cloud says to the disciples, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (v.5b) But the story that in the Gospel of Matthew immediately precedes the temptation of Jesus is not the transfiguration but the baptism of Jesus. Here too the heavens open and God speaks. The words are almost the same though not quite. A voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” There are no instructions to the disciples (as there are no disciples yet), but it is a confirmation of Jesus’ identity.
You know the questions the devil asks Jesus and you know the answers. It is significant that in Matthew all three of Jesus’ answers are quotations from the Book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13). The Book of Deuteronomy, while telling the earlier story of the people’s sojourn toward the promised land, was written much later with the purpose to explain that the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria as well as the Babylonian exile were the result of the people’s disobedience and idolatry. Disobedience and idolatry lead to calamity, but faithfulness to the Lord and His commandments leads to life and blessing. So when Jesus rejects the devil’s plays by quoting from Deuteronomy, he not only rejects the devil but he chooses obedience to the Father and embraces his vocation.
Later, when the mother of James and John makes a pitch for her sons to occupy positions of power in the coming Kingdom, Jesus answers, “whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27b-28)
Jesus speaks to the disciples about their vocation as he embraces his vocation.
The reason the story is important is not only because it shows us the faithfulness of Jesus, but because it raises the question about the faithfulness of the disciples, about you and me. Do we understand that we too have a vocation, that we too have been called? What are our answers, answers we do not give once, but repeatedly, give every day. A reason we make the sign of the cross is to remember whose we are and to whom we belong.
Jesus embraces his vocation. By doing so, Jesus acknowledges that his life is not his own but his life belongs to God, while – because God is love – it also belongs to the world. Right after Jesus has replied to the mother of James and John regarding her request of places of honour, Jesus speaks about the vocation of the church, “‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27) The contradiction to ruling all the kingdoms of the world could not be more apparent.
The church believes that when we see Jesus we see God. We also believe that in Jesus God embraces our humanity and shows us what it means to be fully human.
For Jesus to turn stones into bread would be to want to fix the world rather than love the world. Turning stones into bread is the solution of the technocrat who seeks solutions that do not require change or sacrifice.
The remaining two temptations are about manipulation and power. They bring us back to the answer Jesus gave to the mother of James and John the question of our vocation.
I began by talking about my vocation. Pastors can fail their vocations like anyone, which is why each day we want to remember that we belong to God, as well as that each day is a new beginning.
Those who were leading the small group I participate in in evening prayer, began this last week with a question. After having shared a word by Pope Francis about fasting, they asked us which fast resonated with us the most.
Fast from hurting words and say kind words
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude
Fast from anger and be filled with patience
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope
Fast from worries and trust in God
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity
Fast from pressures and be prayerful
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy
Faster from selfishness and be compassionate to others
Fast from grudges and be reconciled
Fast from words and be silent—so you can listen.1
These are good instructions for they do not take away but give. They may also be good instructions for how we who follow Jesus can live our own vocations.