A week or so ago, Sheridan Voysey published a blogpost on The Fastest Growing Religion in the World, and if you read it, you’ll know the answer to which it is. Not Christianity. Not Islam. Materialism.
He added a check list: check out this list, he said, and it was long. Working from memory, it certainly included: the desire to be admired, either or both for looks and for attainments, to believe that one is the most important person to oneself, to believe that one’s opinions are always right, to desire power, wealth, and innumerable other personal gains, to always be preoccupied by obtaining more … of whatever obsesses us and occupies our thoughts.
It’s what we’ve been raised to expect, and it may overflow into obtaining what looks to be spiritual—because that’s how our minds are being set. To gain things. To compete. To be best, the admired, the top.
In our Lent group this year, we’ve been looking at the weekly Gospel passages (as in the Liturgy for the period of Lent), and it has been very interesting. A quiet reading of the passage, a time for thought and reflection, followed by a discussion of how the words, actions, or events struck us, has brought home a lot more about Jesus. Who was this person? And what is his message?
The first passage, when Jesus is led by the Spirit in to the wilderness, struck us as showing his incredible Scriptural knowledge, in-born intelligence, experience gained over the years before his ministry began. His dialogue with Satan is remarkable in its cool trading of Scripture passages, countering each temptation with a teaching embedded in the Hebrew scriptures. Satan offers another idea, and again is countered from the scriptures. It begins from the mere temptation of ‘You’re hungry: you could always use the power you have to just turn these stones into bread—couldn’t you? Just go the easy way? No travelling out of this desert to find a market?’ Jesus counters with, Man does not live by bread alone—there is more to life than material things.
Satan moves on to, ‘Okay, forget about bread and stones. How about you use your remarkable powers—trying them out so to speak—to demonstrate that God is with you and will keep you safe.’ Jesus’s answer is to say that we should not put God to the test.
The third temptation is to show Jesus the kingdoms of the world—total domination can be his. The easy way. Just worship Satan instead of God. Or, just give in to materialism? To gaining by whatever me and you can? No: keep to your allotted task. Do whatever God has given you to do, ignoring the gain part.
Our second study, on the Transfiguration, can be summed up more quickly. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved: Listen to him!’ Peter and the others had got confused by the spectacular events, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the shining light, the cloud and the voice. One thing was needed: Listen to what he says!
The third was the ‘Samaritan woman at the Well.’ A story about inclusion? This woman was an outcast on several levels—wrong gender, wrong country, wrong religion, wrong relationship. But in another of those wonderfully intelligent dialogues, and addressing her as an equal despite all the possible reasons for thinking less of her, Jesus finally gets the message through. She had resorted to a theological discussion to divert him from a moral one. She avoids ‘worship in spirit and in truth’ by moving to ‘Well, we all know about the Messiah of course…’ Her immediate reaction to his astonishing response, ‘You’re talking to him right now’ is to run back to her village and act, in fact, as the first Gentile missionary, carrying her news and causing a crowd of Samaritans to come and check this news out. Jesus didn’t then hurry away; he stayed there two days and taught them.
And on we go, to the story of a blind man who could see, and some seeing theologians who were blind… We are loving these studies. So often, the ‘stories’ are told only to children, and for adults there’s an emphasis especially at this time year on the suffering of the Cross, and the amazing salvation offered by the Resurrection. But, when we concentrate as adults on looking deeply into who Jesus is as the Incarnate God, what he thought and taught, and how he handled relationships, we appreciate more, not only who it was who was crucified, but also what a pattern we have to follow as his friends—disciples—body on earth.