Sunday, January 08, 2012

The temptation of Jesus -- and the temptation of ministry

At the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, his first action after his baptism was to go to the wilderness for a time of fasting. How did he spend the forty days? Did he spend the time fixing his mind on the things he needed to accomplish? Did he fix his mind on the good he was setting out to achieve? Did he picture the ultimate success of his achievement in the world to come?

We only know this: a tempter came with these temptations: Prove yourself. Use your abilities and powers to serve yourself -- it's not much, and nobody could dispute that you need it. Use God's favor and protection to glorify yourself. Gain the world for yourself.

Jesus said no. We say yes, too often. Those same temptations come to everyone who sets out on any major task. Those temptations come even to people who set out to achieve something good -- maybe especially to people who set out to achieve something good. We think if our goals are good then we have already gotten past the temptations. We're wrong about that. The temptations are right with us: Prove yourself. Make it about your own reputation. Use some of your status for your own benefit. Gain recognition and honor. Gain something for yourself -- after all, you've deserved it, haven't you? Aren't we supposed to be gaining something?

We begin follow Jesus at our baptism -- he is baptized, and we follow him in our own baptism. We can forget to follow him for the next step: rejecting the temptations that came even to him. Those who serve are tempted to make it about themselves. People need to be convinced their leaders are clever, right? The leaders, once they begin to lead, need to prove themselves, don't they? It helps the ministry if we gain recognition, doesn't it? At each turn, there's a wrong way to do things, which leaves the ministry subtly poisoned -- or not so subtly, as time goes on.

I wonder how much every human action meets those same temptations. I wonder how often we recognize them.

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