With nature in its power and beauty, with rain and wind and sunshine, with the ancient rocks and the budding flower,
we gather in praise of God.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Prayer Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Oscar Wilde said, I can resist everything except temptation. Temptations come in many guises, to try and improve oneself at the expense of others, say by cheating to alleviate our perceived suffering to gain an advantage to make life easier or nicer; all with the supposition that it is somehow wrong to do any of the above. Polite society has a sliding scale of right and wrong, somethings are worse than others. Intention, cost, hurt, all come in to the equation as it boils down to judgement. Every situation is different, every circumstance is individual. You see our definition if right and wrong determines our definition of temptation. For Jesus it was the temptation of bodily needs over the longer term vision, a harder vision of suffering. Suffering of course immediately lends itself to theodicy, which is why do innocent people suffer? And this question arises out of the ancient understanding of suffering being punishment. If you don’t believe that suffering has anything to do with punishment, then the question of theodicy ultimately comes back to our understanding of the nature of God. How involved is God in the world? Which then relates back to our understanding of prayer. The definition of prayer is therefore is also on a scale between- magic and and yogic meditation and anything in between. Judaism and Christianity both have at their core the notion of the innocent suffering on behalf of others; for Jesus it is the vision of becoming the eternal companion to humanity, because to sacrifice his life was the most powerful way of attesting to the existence of God. Judas of all the disciples seems to get this, and joins the suffering of Jesus by recognising that his actions will damn him in the eyes of humanity for eternity but will ensure that Jesus’ vision is fulfilled. Judas is the only one who recognises that want humanity expects, power, greatness, authority is the very opposite to that which Jesus represents, which is the only key to the existence of God. For we cannot understand God on human values, Jesus therefore spent his ministry as a let down to many. His listeners had expectations and he did not fulfil them. There was disappointment and disillusionment after the sermon on the mount, and again after the cross. Jesus as Saviour does not fit the definition of saviour that his listeners hold. Jesus appears as weak and pointless- and this is the essence of our faith. That God is in the weak and mundane, vulnerable and helpless. Once we get that into our heads, we get Christianity. For being a Christian has no tangible benefits. In the life of Jesus, Shusaku Endo writes this; Love itself has no immediate benefits. We are therefore hard put to find where the love of God can be hidden behind tangible realities which rather suggest that God does not exist, or that he never speaks or that he is angry. Jesus suffers alone. But although deserted by his closest followers they seem to get it in the end as they all die, in some way or another, after many sufferings in his name. When the disciples understand that under human values Jesus seems to be powerless and pointless then they suddenly get it. Endo describes jesus as the dohansha (useless powerless incapable of positive achievement and utterly loyal as a companion- the Christ figures in the Endo oeuvre include Mitsu in the Girl I left behind, which Endo was later to refer to as the Jesus I left behind, Gaston in the wonderful fool, Otsu in Deep River). For Endo the writers of the Gospels do not hold back in describing the passion narratives Jesus being powerless, Jesus the helpless with love containing to flow from within him, Jesus worn out, Jesus exhausted. Before the passion Endo claims that on every page of the Gospels we see an image of Jesus trying to share in all the sorrows of misfortunate men and women. There is a causal link to Endo’s own life. As a young man He was rejected in Japan for being a Christian, and had suffered racial abuse from French Christians because of the anti-Japanese propaganda that had promulgated post war Europe. He returned to Japan via Palestine and there discovered that Jesus knew rejection. Philip Yancy puts it this way:- Jesus' life was defined by rejection. His neighbors laughed at him, his family questioned his sanity, his closest friends betrayed him, and his fellow citizens traded his life for that of a common criminal. Throughout his ministry, Jesus purposely gravitated toward the poor and the rejected: he touched those with leprosy, dined with the unclean, forgave thieves, adulterers, and prostitutes. This new insight into Jesus hit Endo with the force of revelation. From the faraway vantage point of Japan he had viewed Christianity as a triumphant, Constantinian faith. (of) …. the glittering Crusades, … the grand cathedrals .., had dreamed of living in a nation where one could be a Christian without disgrace. Now, as he studied the Bible, he saw that Christ himself had not avoided "dis-grace." In the mouth of Rodrigues as he contemplates his Judas Kijchiro- “Could it be possible that Christ loved and searched after this dirtiest of men? In evil there remained strength and beauty of evil; but this Kijchiro was not even worthy to be called evil. He was thin and dirty like the tattered rags he wore.” When Rodrigues is faced with finally stamping on the fumie the image of Christ “was not a Christ whose face was filled with majesty and glory, neither was it a face made beautiful by endurance of pain, nor was it face filled with the strength of a will that has repelled temptation. The face of the man who then lay at his feet was sunken and utterly exhausted.” And that Christ reflected with Rodrigues “I was not silent, I suffered beside you” “I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason I am here” It is in the harsh realities of real life that we seek to see the genuine love of God the constant companion. This Endo image of Christ is at the core of ministry. Our churches are filled with “Those who despair of love seek an existence who will not betray their love, those who have abandoned all hope of being understood in their sorrow seek a true understander in the recesses of their hearts. This is not sentimentality or over dependence: merely a necessary precondition for individuals in their interactions with others.” No longer Christ sought as the MESSIAH who will vindicate Israel and over throw the Romans now as Takamori says of the Christ figure Gaston in the wonderful fool; “for such a man, a man both weak and cowardly to bear the burden of his weakness and struggle valiantly to live a beautiful life- that’s what I call great…” Endo makes it clear through weakness, self sacrificial love, comes salvation. Gaston hopes that “the earth is not just for the clever and the strong. it must be possible for the pitiful creatures like himself … too make some contribution in their lifetime.” Endo’s conviction is that “salvation is to be found not in some distant place separated from us by a vast expanse of open sky, but within our own being- in the dirtiest and most mundane part of our being.” Salvation in an inglorious cross a not dreadful majesty where we sanitise the cross to make it majestic to suit our own ends, the ends of the Church who according to Endo identifies itself more with the organisational responsibilities of Caiaphas than the sacrificial love of the lamb of God. Just as it is for Rodrigues; and Hazekura and Velasco in the Samurai who undertake journey’s where the real pilgrimage is the changing face of Christ from Christ the King to Christ the suffering servant. In Deep River, seen by many as the consummation of the whole Endo oeuvre the chapters concerning Otsu the re-incarnation of Mitsu from the Girl I left Behind, are entitled “Surely he hath borne our griefs” and “He hath no form no comeliness”. A deliberate clear manifestation of Otsu as the suffering servant.But for Endo which Yancey’s misses, it isn't just about the disgraced, it is a pantheistic approach to all life- In the girl I left behind Yoshioka Tsutomu pontificates; “At that time I had no belief in God, but were such a God to exist perhaps he would choose such insignificant and routine incidents in our everyday lives to reveal his existence.” Endo was to later write that “God must be found on the streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya, too, districts which seem so far removed from him…. It will be one of my tasks to find God in such typical Japanese scenes….If I succeed in doing that, my western suit will no longer be western but will have become my own. “ Think about it, how common a name was Jeshuah, how normal a town was Nazareth. Endo recognises those in between, those who are not necessarily saints or necessarily ugly or weak; the normal, the mundane. So what is temptation? Temptation is to be something we are not, to adopt the world’s definition of power and influence. We are tempted everyday, to see God as authority in human terms, which then asks the question of suffering. But if we see God, and as Christians our only reference is the suffering of Christ, in terms of powerlessness, then question of suffering does not arise. it is tempting for us to have a nice vacuumed packed theology which makes questions disappear. To see the powerlessness of God raises more questions than it answers, and that then becomes our faith, do not be tempted to try and define the divine on human terms, that is what the temptations of Jesu are all about and that is why this passage of scripture is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.
Commission It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn't depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn't depend on how long you've held on to the old view.