Wednesday Meditation (3/13/19)
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
22 Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus[a] to death, for they were afraid of the people.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; 4 he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. 5 They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
Good evening. If you were in worship on Sunday, you heard the story of Jesus’ temptation. The Holy Spirit sends Jesus out into the wilderness for forty days, where he goes without food. There, he’s tempted by Satan. He’s tempted by the ability to feed every person who’s hungry, simply by turning rocks into loaves of bread. He can protect himself from bodily harm. Satan even offers Jesus the glory and authority to rule every nation in the world.
Of course, Jesus passes every test. And then, Luke tells us, Satan departs from the scene, “until an opportune time.” We see that opportune time in the end of tonight’s reading. Satan returns—not to tempt Jesus, but to tempt Judas. Someone who’s a little more malleable.
Sometimes, when we hear names from the Bible, we hear them as we hear personal names in English: Joe, Samantha, Steve, or Barbara. But many Hebrew names have meanings that can be translated into English. For instance, the Hebrew name, Adam, means man. That’s right, the name of the first man is Man.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus heals a blind man named Bartimaeus. We are told that the man is the son of Timaeus. We need to be told that because we don’t speak Hebrew. The name Bartimaeus literally means, the son of Timaeus. The Gospel of Mark practically introduces him as Son-of-Timaeus, the son of Timaeus.
When we hear the name Satan, we think of a guy with red skin, bat wings, and a barbed tail. But the Hebrew words ha Satan, simply mean, the accuser. Think of the story of Job. Satan simply goes around accusing people of not having faith. Judas doesn’t have enough faith to trust in Jesus, to trust that Jesus is the Messiah. So, Judas gives in. He allows himself to be tempted. He turns Jesus over to the religious authorities.
These authorities fear Jesus and his teachings. Jesus has true authority—the chief priests depend on Roman approval. The people like what Jesus has to say, even if some of it is tough to follow. Jesus threatens the earthly authority of the chief priests and scribes. It’s in their interest to pay a bribe to Judas.
It’s interesting that this part of the story comes right after Jesus teaches about his return, the second coming. We heard the first three verses of our reading tonight back in December; the full teaching on Jesus’ return is the reading for the first Sunday in Advent. Honestly, it sounds a little strange:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
It doesn’t exactly put you in the mood for Christmas, right?
In Lent, it’s different. In Lent, we’re on a slightly different journey. We’re following Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. Perhaps his teaching takes on a greater urgency. In the first three verses of our reading, Jesus cautions us against the things that can lead us away from faithful responses: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly.”
On Sunday, I cautioned you all against shallow readings of and shallow responses to scripture. In the shallow reading and response, we hear the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and we respond by giving up chocolate for forty days. The problem with the shallow response is that it becomes about us, and also how we respond to ordinary temptations.
This is never just about each of us as individuals. And when we turn all of this faith stuff into private practice, we make easy targets of ourselves.
Remember, Jesus is teaching crowds of people; he’s preaching to congregations. The proper response to ordinary temptations is community. The faithful response is to come together, to be in relationship with one another and with God at the same time. In relationship, we can share our fears and face them together. In relationship, we can share our stories, too. We can begin to know one another as God knows us. We can encourage one another and caution one another. We can mitigate some individual temptations and we can move forward in faith, hope, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are taught to be watchful and patient. We are taught to avoid the thing that lead us into places of fear and temptation. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!