by Dr Paula Gooder
Dr Paula Gooder is a writer and lecturer in Biblical Studies. Her research areas focus on the writings of Paul the Apostle, with a particular focus on 2 Corinthians and on Paul’s understanding of the Body. Her passion is to ignite people’s enthusiasm for reading the Bible today, by presenting the best of biblical scholarship in an accessible and interesting way. She is currently the Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
One of the things that some people love to do is to tell you how to be who you are. The minute they find that you are a ‘……’ (fill in the blank), they begin to offer direction about what a ‘good’ version of you would do. Invariably, I find, this the opposite of what I think I should do. This can be particularly true of being a Christian. People love to tell you what a good Christian is and how they might respond to any particular situation.
It is therefore reassuring to discover in the Gospels that exactly the same thing happened to Jesus. The temptation narratives are, effectively, the devil doing precisely this to Jesus. We already know that Jesus was the Son of God because he had been declared to be so at his baptism in the previous passage (‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’, Matthew 3.17 also in Mark 1.11 and Luke 3.22). However, no sooner had Jesus been driven out into the wilderness than the devil began to press him: ‘If you are the Son of God….turn these stones into bread; throw yourself off the temple and bow down and worship me (Matthew 4.1-11 and Luke 4.1-12).
The point of the temptations was not to work out if Jesus was the Son of God – we already know that he was -- but what kind of Son of God he would be. Would he use who he was for his own benefit (by turning stones into bread when he was hungry) or for the benefit of others (by feeding the 5000 or turning water into wine)? Would he get God to save him just because he could (by throwing himself off the temple so the angels would catch him) or give his own life so that he could save others? Would he worship the devil as a shortcut to having power over the whole world or live a life of love and service caring for that world and giving up the power he already had?
Of course we know the answer to all these questions, we’ve read the Gospels and heard the stories so often that we know how it ends. We know exactly what kind of Son of God Jesus chose to be. During Lent, however, we are invited back into these stories to look again with fresh eyes. The question this time is not what kind of Son of God will Jesus be but what kind of follower of this Son of God will we be? Will we use who we are as Christians for our own benefit or the benefit of others? Will we use our prayers to ask God to intervene to help us in our own lives, or seek to find ways to transform the lives of others? Will we take shortcuts and easy routes – the equivalent of selling our souls to the devil – or live with integrity the life God has called us to live?
There are many people in the world who would like nothing more than to do tell who we should be, how we should act and what decisions we should make but the Jesus whom we follow is not one of them. He invites us to follow in his footsteps and in doing so to find those answers for ourselves and, then, to work out what they mean in practice. The season of Lent is a time that creates space – 40 days just like the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness – in which we can ask these questions of ourselves and of God. The season of Lent invites us to step aside, to take time in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, to reflect and to ask ourselves these deep, soulful questions. Who am I really? What kind of follower of Jesus am I? What kind of choices should I make to reflect that? How do I choose to live the precious life God has given me?
However as you observe Lent this year – whether you give things up or take new things on – may it be a time in which you can ask these deep questions . . . and, freed from the many voices that clamour to give you their pre-packaged, one size-fits-all answers, to hear the still, small voice of God declaring you to be a beloved child of God.
- Lent for Everyone: Matthew Year A
- Sacred Space for Lent 2020
- Lent with the Saints: Daily Reflections
- The Art Of Lent: A Painting A Day From Ash Wednesday To Easter
- Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection
- Bring Lent to Life: Activities & Reflections for Your Family
- Stations of the Cross
- Meditations on Stations of the Cross
- Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Great Fifty Days : A Ceremonial Guide
- The Novello Book of Music For Lent & Easter