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Lenten Reflections: Universal Temptations of the Soul


Photo by flickr user Luigi Mengato.

Sunday, Feb. 17                                                                           

Lectionary passage:

Luke 4: 1-13

By Rev. Beth Braxton

A number of years ago I read a little book on Christian leadership by Henri Nouwen, who is a Roman Catholic priest and who had been a professor of pastoral theology at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. At the time of the writing of this book he had moved from the academic community to the L’Arche Community for the mentally handicapped.  The book, entitled In the Name of Jesus, had a profound effect on my own understanding of servant leadership. Uniquely, Nouwen’s model for this leadership came from the temptations of Jesus, our scripture for today!

Nouwen realized how much his own thinking about what is important in life was influenced by the desire to be relevant (“turn this stone into bread”) the desire to be powerful (“I will give you glory and authority if you fall down and worship me”), and the desire to be popular (“throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple).  Are not Jesus’ temptations universal—our temptations for today? Think with me:

Are we not tempted to do something that gives notoriety? We want to be recognized, we want to do something noteworthy, we want to make a name for ourselves and our families?

Are we not tempted to have as much power and control as possible? We are often seeking power over another—economic power, intellectual power, political power, moral power.   

Are we not tempted to seek applause, to do something spectacular, to be a super- hero?  We want to do something to be seen by all.  We want stardom and individual heroism!

Yet we follow One who did not cling to divine power, but emptied himself and became a servant of love.  After his time in the wilderness, Jesus went to his hometown and into the familiar synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news for the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:18).  After wrestling with the demons of the desert, Jesus discerned his true calling— as a servant of love.  Is this not the true calling of every Christian?

In the Benedictine Rule it says “only what turns to love in your life will last.” Amen!

PRAYER: O God of the counter-intuitive and the paradox, give us hearts to understand your way – that in surrender to your will is our strength and power.  Save us from the temptations of our self-centered ways.  Lead us through our Lenten wilderness of lost purpose, sickness, technology overload, broken relationships, difficult children, estranged relatives, spiritual deserts to the resurrection light of new life.  We pray in the name of Jesus, who died that we might live! Amen.                                                                      

Rev. Beth Braxton is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet PDF Icon.


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