January 11, 2011

“From sin and death he saves us, and lightens every load….”

The message of the ancient Christmas carol “Lo, How a Rose ‘Eer Blooming” rang out this morning in SPU chapel. No, we aren’t in Christmas withdrawal here on campus.  Rather, at the beginning of winter quarter we are privileged to enter together into reading Matthew’s gospel and in so doing, to consider Jesus, this Rose of whom “men of old have sung.”

I am struck by Dave Nienhuis’ chapel reflection drawn from the third chapter of Matthew:  Jesus’ first public act is to identify with humanity’s brokenness, sinfulness, and with the “least of these” as he stepped forward to be baptized by John, a baptism of repentance for sinners.   When questioned by John, Jesus’ explanation of this puzzling action (Jesus wasn’t a sinner!)  is that His baptism by John will “fulfill all righteousness.” (3:15)

So what does this kind of righteousness look like?  One answer lies in the next passage,  Jesus’ wilderness temptation.  By considering how Jesus was tempted, we may conversely understand the nature of his righteousness.  Henri Nouwen, in In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership outlines Jesus’ temptations:

  • Temptation to be relevant. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (4:3) For someone fasting, nothing is more relevant than bread.  Likewise we can all too easily feed off of a perceived relevance we think we can offer.  But as Nouwen suggests, “The leader of the future will be the one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there.”  p. 22
  • Temptation to be spectacular. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” (4: 6)  The stardom and individual heroism of our competitive society easily shapes our thinking, deceiving with the idea that we are to be self-made, strong individuals who spectacularly can do it all on our own.  “The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.  Therefore, true ministry must be mutual….it is servant leadership in which the leader is a vulnerable servant….” p. 44-45
  • Temptation to be powerful. “I will give you all the kingdoms of this world in their splendor….” (4: 9)  Nouwen describes this as the temptation to replace love with power, as it offers an easy substitute.  “…the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat.  Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead.  Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”  p. 60

Lord – thank you that you lead us not into temptation, but save us from sin and death.  May we seek your kingdom and your righteousness.

Celeste Cranston, Director of the Center for Biblical and Theological Education

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