In trying to “make a name for ourselves,” that name may become “mud” — which inspired this reflection.
told by Deborah
After his baptism by John, Jesus was lead by the Spirit out into the wilderness to face temptation.
After he had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was famished — so hungry that the rocks began to look like loaves of bread. And the tempter spoke, “If you really are the Son of God, you could command these rocks to turn into loaves of bread.”
Jesus answered, “Bread nourishes the body, but God’s word gives life.”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the roof of the temple, “If you really are the Son of God,” he said, “Jump off. For surely ‘He will order His angels to watch over you,’ and ‘They will lift you up so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a pebble.’”
Jesus said to him, “No way! ‘We are not to put the Lord God to the test.’”
So then the devil took him to the top of a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their all of their wealth; and said to him, “This can all be yours: fame, fortune, success, if you will worship me.”
Jesus said, “Get out of here, Satan! As the scriptures say, ‘Love and serve the Eternal, the Gracious One, and no other.’” At that the tempter vanished, and immediately angels came and comforted the Lord.
This past Friday I tumbled down the hill behind our house. I was clearing away some fallen branches when the rain-soaked earth gave out from under me; I hit the ground and rolled sideways for some distance before I met up with a tree trunk which interrupted my downward progress.
As I fell I let go of the bucket I was carrying, which bounced several times, dropped about ten feet, and landed with a splash into the creek below — where it promptly lodged against a boulder. (If that had been me rather than the bucket, I’d be dealing with more than the few aches and scrapes and bruises that I have now.)
After wallowing in the mud for several minutes trying to regain my footing, I eventually ended up crawling part of the way back up the hillside. It was an in-depth experience in humility.
As I sit here, licking my wounds (actually, I’m applying Neosporin to them) you might think that I would have given up any thought of another risky trek down the hill. But, no: instead I have been plotting ways to reach the creekside and retrieve that bucket.
A foolish notion, to say the least. It is not worth risking life and limb for a $2.98 Home Depot bucket. And I know that, logically.
And yet, darned if I’m not positively enthralled, enticed, (almost) irresistibly tempted by the idea of going back down there.
You probably know the feeling. Even in the face of disaster — particularly in the face of disaster — there is something that rises up within us; we yearn to prove that, indeed, whatever it is, we can do it. Nothing will stop us. We will do it.
You just watch! I won’t let that hillside get the better of me. Never mind that it’s steep and slippery and that I nearly broke my neck the last time — and that there is another, identical bucket sitting in the garage. I will get that bucket back.
Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it?
It reminds me of the story of Adam and Eve: we know both good and evil … but we can’t always differentiate between them.
We think of a great idea, start a project that sounds amazing, and carry on, regardless — even when it turns out badly, or becomes hurtful or harmful or possibly life-threatening. We stubbornly persist “against all odds,” because we like the sound of that: we like thinking of ourselves as heroic, as powerful; as great, noble, and admirable characters.
Remember when the devil tempted Jesus by promising him notoriety, fame and fortune — all of those ego-enhancements? The Lord had the wisdom to resist.
There is great danger in being swept up by appearances: when we are focused on how we look (good/right/helpful/determined) rather than what we hope to accomplish. The “means” becomes confused with the “end,” and suddenly it is all about us — not about what is good or worthwhile. The original goal is forgotten or, worse, undermined.
Enthusiasm, resilience, and commitment make it possible for us to achieve great things. Repeated efforts despite multiple failures and disappointments have brought us electric light, air travel, artificial heart valves, and ramen noodles. However, a too-narrow focus has given us antibiotic-resistant bacteria, massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and the recent near-collapse of the Oroville dam here in California.
It’s easy to get distracted from our ultimate purpose. Our egotism (traditionally called the sin of “pride”) can lead us astray, far from what is right and good toward foolishness, failure, and outright harm. We forget what is important while we chase after the insignificant: wasting hours searching for a plastic bucket (“the one that got away”); finding fault rather than seeking common ground; zealously defending our past instead of embracing the opportunities of today. We are absorbed by the headlines and ignore the Gospel.
There is a terrible temptation to uphold our sense of self-righteousness, even when it leads to terrible trouble. It may be cloaked as “integrity,” or “consistency,” or “determination,” when it is, in fact, simple stubbornness. To insist on our own way without mindful, prayerful consideration is a form of spiritual blindness. It is shutting our eyes to the possibility that God may have a different plan. In our determination to prove ourselves, we may be lead astray, far from what truly matters.
Let us work and pray to keep our focus on what is ultimately important: on what is great and good and lasting. In all we say and do — in all that we hope for and dream of, all we plan for and pray for — may we truly follow the Way of our Lord Christ: “Love and serve the Eternal, the Gracious One, and no other.”
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
What is your issue of primary concern? (What — above all else — do you hope for?)
How is your life oriented toward this?
Who is this in service to?
What distracts you?