Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Second Temptation

SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 4.5-7
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,  ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
The Second Temptation 

Jump!  Jump!  Jump!

Context means everything in how we hear and understand things.

The shouted jump is greeted with cheers at the basketball game as one center’s extended arm tips the balance to his team. . . with exuberant dancing when Van Halen’s Might As Well Jump is played at a dance or event . . . with family-gathered cheers when a toddler first learns to bounce . . . with hope and command from the firefighters below when it’s someone escaping a burning building . . .

And then there’s the macabre twist of the crowd uglies chanting jump to one standing up high seeking to end their pain with one last failed effort to fly in what we call suicide [literally: self killing].

In Matthew 4, we hear of Jesus’ second temptation: the temptation to jump.  But it’s not really about jumping; the temptation is for Jesus to substitute himself for God, his vision for God’s, his desires for God’s.

That, however – all that understanding, is hindsight.  In the midst of the temptation, Jesus is hungry and thirsty and tired and alone with only this nagging voice in the wilderness to keep him company telling him that up is down and now is all that matters.

Lots of people have stood on top of buildings and contemplated their fates.  Some walk away quietly after a time.  Some are talked down.  And some jump.

I wonder – in that last step actually taken – in the moment of free-fall beginning, is there a desire, a child-like hope to be caught up by angel arms?  Is there a desperate belief that someone will pull off a last-minute rescue?  Or is there simply desire for ‘it’, whatever it may be at the time, to stop, to end?

When the finger closes on the trigger . . . when the foot moves out in to space . . . when the noose is tightened . . . are there thoughts of angels then?

I suspect not.

I suspect the desire for ending is so strong that nothing else has place or space.

The big lie – told by those inside and outside of church – is that God will make things so it doesn’t hurt.  Or – that if God doesn’t take away the hurt, God isn’t much of a God after all, for surely the purpose of a god is to take away our hurts.

God is not in the magic business, making this reality out of that one.

It is tempting in the dark times to simply fall into the wind and hope for the best.  It’s seductive, this belief that the end of pain lies within our grasp when pain holds such power over us.  And when pain is our only reality, there is no comfort, perhaps, in knowing that it will pass.  In such times, what we have is a God not who makes magic and wipes away our reality.  What we have is a God who falls with us to earth, never flinching, never leaving.

Some days, that’s enough to keep me from jumping.

And if you’re someone thinking about jumping, I, for one, wish you wouldn’t.  Really.  I’m much rather wrestle with you in the mud than mourn for you in the funeral parlor.  I’d much rather sit with your tears and pain than with your corpse.  I’d much rather have no answers than you have no questions.  Because you matter.  To God.  To me.  To you.

If suicide is on your mind and you need someone with training to talk to, check out Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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