Rev. Andrew Cunnington
5th March 2017
Uncomfortable in Satan’s Shoes

I lent forward from the back seat and tapped the taxi driver on the shoulder.

“Are you sure we’re headed in the right direction” I asked him.

“Well this is where the Sat Nav’s taking me” he replied.

We’d left the city behind and we’re driving through a shanty town. The shanty town gave way to a wasteland and the wasteland was becoming a desert.

Suddenly the taxi skidded to a halt by the side of the road ballooning up dust and sand everywhere.

“That’s the path” he said pointing to a narrow track winding its way between the rocks.

“Are you sure” I asked. “Look I told you didn’t I and I will be back here in two hours like we agreed, but I’m not waiting around”.

I stepped out of the taxi into the burning heat of the middle of the day and watched it roared off until it was just a speck on the highway.

Utter silence descended all around me as I started to climb up the path. It wasn’t long before I reached the summit beyond which the desert really did take hold. Wave upon wave of sandy hills folded into one, like an ocean of wilderness.

“Hallo!”. I called. “Hallo, anyone there”

My voice echoing round spookily.

Then suddenly I heard a shuffle on the wind. I looked round and jumped out of my skin, for there he was standing there right at my shoulder.

“And So…” He said to me after a pause.

“And So…” I said summoning all my courage in both hands “and so I’ve come to get you”.

The man at my side laughed out loud “What do you mean?” he said.

“Well, the bible says that you spent forty days in this desert place, but it’s been two thousand years now. Won’t you come away now, come back with me and lead your people. For we are aching for you!”

“Lead my people” said Jesus of Nazareth. “and how…?

“Well to change things if you must know” said I “It’s all going wrong and none of us know where it will end. There are violent people, starving people, refugee people everywhere. Men, women and children who have nothing. No one knows who to trust. and you have it at your fingertips to put it right and yet you hide out here in the middle of nowhere.

I noticed tears in his eyes.

“There are people leading us who only think about themselves. Many of them have great wealth and its splitting the world apart. You said you had a kingdom, it’s all over the gospels, a better way, so come back with me. Put it in place.

He gazed out into the desert and said nothing.

“And you know what the biggest news of the week is? Someone got the Oscar nominations in a muddle”

Jesus of Nazareth snorted.

“We need you to come with power and strength. We need you to overturn the tables of more than moneychangers now. Come with your angels and your spirit. If you did we would all follow.

And Jesus of Nazareth looked at me with narrowing eyes “ Away with you Satan, away with you. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”

And I didn’t know what to say.

As I sat with this Gospel passage and put myself in the story, that’s where I found myself. That there is something about the way I am with my Lord and my God that is of the same character as the one who tempted him in the true wilderness.

That tempter wanted to cajole Jesus into turning stones into bread. He tried to goad him into taking control of the nations of the world. He tried to lure Jesus into a display of power and authority.

The tempters themes, I am only just realising are those that dangerously invade my prayers quite a bit of the time because when I let God have my heart, it’s the same things. Consumerism. Possessions and control and the wrong use of them and Jesus breaking in and making a spectacular difference.

As if the message is, Don’t look for Jesus to fit in with the way we do things and see things. Don’t tempt him to fit into our shape of the world, but rather give yourself over to fit in his shape. Don’t lure him out of the desert, but be with him there so that this remoulding in each of us who need it can take its holier shape.

As I mentioned last week, I am sitting with John’s Gospel all through Lent and of course if you look through its pages you do not find a temptation in the wilderness story anywhere. Just as you don’t find many things you take for granted in the other three Gospels. Instead John makes his points through individual relationships that unfold throughout its pages.

In Matthew’s gospel, from which we read today Peter later challenges the whole idea that Jesus should suffer and die and in response Jesus says to him “ Get behind me Satan”

In John Peter’s character deteriorates the more Jesus becomes vulnerable. The more Jesus becomes less and less prepared to be shaped into the expectations of the world.

Three times in John’s passion story Peter shows he is looking for a different messiah to the one Jesus is turning out to be.

At the footwashing Peter will not let Jesus wash his feet to begin with. Because he has a different idea of authority.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter chops off the High priest’s ear when they come to arrest Jesus, because he has a different idea about power.

When Jesus is arrested Peter vehemently says he does not know this man, for he has a different idea of what holiness adds up to.

But there is another important character in John’s Gospel who reacts very differently to our familiar hot headed friend. He is called the disciple who Jesus loved, and he simply goes with Jesus. He doesn’t put any demands upon him, he doesn’t seek to shape Jesus according to his own needs and opinions. He just stays close. He is the one right next to Jesus at the last supper, who just reclines his head upon Jesus’s breast. He is the one who is at the foot of the cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus. Toughing it out to the end. He is the one after the resurrection who trails on behind Jesus whilst Peter and Jesus are going all hammer and tongs.

To allow our lives to simply go with Jesus and be shaped by him, is a far from easy option, in a world where people want answers and action to every eventuality. It means we may not find him easily in the crowded places of our lives, where we set our agenda and expect Jesus to fit in or tag along.

This is a stiff Lenten ask. Where is the desert space where we can find him? We need to watch our tongues as we pray. Lest we be found impersonating the tempter. We need to watch how we are with others lest we take on the hot headed persona of Peter. We need to ask what might it be to simply trust and be in the present moment with Jesus, and what do we need to do now to get in that stream of thinking.

Let’s unfreeze the action in the desert.

“I really didn’t know that I’d become like that” I whispered. “I would never have intended…”

“Don’t think I don’t know or understand” said Jesus of Nazareth, resting his hand on mine.

And then the silence was broken by the sound of the impatient horn of the returning taxi.

Resounding angrily across the silence…

“Look I’d better go” I said removing my hand from his “ The taxi driver said he wouldn’t wait, and I have a parish visit in my diary for 4pm”

“But you could stay here” said Jesus “There are many that do, more than you know. You could stay here, and learn to trust and to love. Clear out that anxiety. Move from day to day with me and me alone and become shaped into a beloved disciple.

A shout from over the hill. The taxi driver. Impatient “If you don’t come now I’m going”

“And so” said Jesus of Nazareth.

“And so” said I …

MATTHEW 4: 1-11