Year C Lent 1: temptation and perfection

Notes for the sermon that won’t be preached tomorrow:

Was there never any danger that Jesus would succumb to the temptings and promptings and proddings of the devil?

We tend to trap ourselves in our language of perfection and innocence, of sinlessness and spotlessness, and turn Jesus into an invulnerable icon, an armoured superhuman with bullet-proof hide and a soul to match.

But if Jesus was in no danger from these temptations, if his fast left him as strong and as energetic as ever, if he responded so one hundred and eighty degrees differently than any one of us would or could, then what is the point to the story? Why tempt the untemptable? Why rejoice at the victory of the one for whom these is no match, no challenger worth the title? Where is the hope? What is the point?

Perhaps our language is missing something. Perhaps our idea of perfection is lacking. In Platonic thought, everything that exists on earth is a shadow, a copy of its perfect form, which exists in idea only, perfectly preserved and untouched by mortality or creation. It is a philosophy which has infected our idea of perfection and spread to our Christology, our descriptions of who Jesus was and is as the Son of God. We consider that in his perfection, he could have been no other, could have behaved and responded no other way; but then what would have been the point to his Incarnation, to his becoming human? Donald Mackinnon, citing another scholar named Cook-Wilson, pointed out that “once Plato had established the reality of the forms, his problem was to find any raison d’etre for the particulars which copied them, or partook of their being .. Christianity faces men with the paradox that certain events which could have been otherwise are of ultimate, transcendent import; and this without losing their character as contingent events.”[1]

[1] “Our Contemporary Christ,” in Borderlands of Theology and Other Essays, Donald MacKinnon, edited by George W. Roberts and Donovan E. Smucker (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011; orginal copyright 1968 Lutterworth Press), 87

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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1 Response to Year C Lent 1: temptation and perfection

  1. Ken Ranos says:

    It’s always interesting to challenge our assumptions of God and ourselves. I love it.

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