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Jesus in the Wilderness – Some Reflections from Henri Nouwen

by Emily Richardson

On Sunday evening I used the writings of Henri Nouwen to reflect on the lectionary reading for the First Sunday in Lent. These are explored mainly in the book “In the Name of Jesus” and I relied heavily on the quotations found on this blog.

Turning stones into bread – the temptation to be relevant

“Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant: to turn stones into bread. Oh, how I wished I could do that!  Are we not called to do something that makes people realize that we do make a difference in their lives? Aren’t we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with the same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of turning stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, “Human beings live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

What ways are you or have you been tempted to be relevant? To rely on your abilities to work wonders and fix things, rather than to rely on God as the source of your strength and security.

Addressing the temptation – Contemplation

“To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God’s unconditional and unlimited love,” Nouwen says, “we have to become mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s love.”

Spend some time now rooted in that love. Breathe in that love as you breathe out your need to fix the world’s problems.

Worship me – The temptation to be powerful

“What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.
One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation to power–political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power–even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are.”

How are you tempted to be powerful? To worship the powerful voices, rather than cling to the Christ-like, vulnerable examples of self-emptying love.

Addressing the temptation – Theological reflection

“Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance. This is a hard discipline since God’s presence is often a hidden presence, a presence that needs to be discovered. The loud, boisterous noises of the world make us deaf to the soft, gentle, and loving voice of God.“

Spend some moments now trying to listen to that gentle voice. What is it telling you?

Throw yourself off the temple – the temptation to be spectacular

“The final temptation to which Jesus was exposed was precisely the temptation to do something spectacular, something that could win him great applause. “Throw yourself from the parapet of the temple and let the angels catch you and carry you in their arms.” But Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself. He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say. “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test,” he said.

What ways are you tempted to be spectacular? To be applauded or rewarded for your efforts?

Addressing the temptation – Confession

“Confession and forgiveness are exactly the disciplines by which true incarnation lives. Through confession, the dark powers are taken out of their carnal isolation, brought into the light and made visible to the community. Through forgiveness they are disarmed and dispelled and a new integration between body and spirit is made possible.”

What things do you feel you need to confess today? How can this Lenten season be a time of honesty and humility about your own frailties and shortcomings?


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