Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 9:30am

 

 

When I was a boy, both my parents worked, and I had to take myself to school in the morning- walking a couple of blocks to the station, and then catching the train. On that regular morning walk there would always be various unchanging milestones on the way: The pub on the corner, the wall where some wag had written ‘Give Peas a chance’, and then, at the end of the lane, a light brown Austin Allegro forlornly sitting unmoved and untended in the same place and corroding away into nothing. In fact, such was the unfortunate state of decay on the lettering that I thought for a while it was a ‘Rustin Allegro’, which seemed entirely appropriate.

 

Some years ago now, it was voted the worst car ever, and faced stiff competition from other products of British Leyland. Nor was this especially surprising, since the work-ethic in their West Midland factories was notoriously awful. While Japanese and German manufacturers were insisting on careful attention to detail, the attitude in Britain was ‘that’ll do, it’s good enough’

 

We might think that one of the defining features of any successful creative endeavour is perfectionism. Not settling for second best. Refusing to compromise the original vision until it is brought to effect. If we think of a great writer, we might imagine someone sitting at their typewriter surrounded by scrunched up pieces of paper. If we imagine a great artist we might call to mind a fiery figure who slashes at a canvas in frustration as he searches for the perfect line, or the ideal composition. But, in truth, I think, the creative impulse is rather different.

 

I think the artist is involved in a sort of dialogue with her subject or materials. A piece of art is more often a series of happy accidents than a facsimile reproduced directly from the artist’s mind. The creative process is about allowing the work to become what it is going to be rather than imposing a rigid scheme.

 

If this is true, them perfectionism is the enemy of true creativity. Perfectionism implies a kind of cold and glossy mass-produced flawlessness, which is fantastic for a kettle, but which is death to a piece of art. Instead, we might see creativity as a kind of compromise. The best kind. Not an acceptance of failure, but a willingness to see the picture, or symphony or novel develop a life of its own.

 

So it is that we come today, entering the season of Lent to consider Jesus’ temptations in the Wilderness. Jesus, fresh from his baptism, is driven (literally ‘thrown’ in the original text) by the Spirit into the wilderness, there to fast for forty days and nights. Having been openly declared the beloved Son of God he is drawn away to discern his future course, and he is put to the test by Satan.

 

Now, mention of Satan immediately takes us back to the beginning of creation- back to the garden where Adam and Eve first went astray. What was it that the serpent promised them? ‘Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’

By an act of disobedience they are promised equality with God- a fulfilment, and maturity that they seem to lack. To put it in other terms Satan invites them to rely only on themselves, to test whether God would be true to his word, to seek control and power for themselves.

What is ingenious is that the serpent offers them slavery under the guise of freedom. Death under the guise of life. By separating them from their creator, he gives them the outward form of these things but isolates them from the one who can bring them to fulfilment.

 

God, the creator has given his creation freedom. Humanity has the freedom to choose. And because we are free, we are free to choose badly. We are free to enslave ourselves; to listen to voices that are not God in an effort to do what only God can do.

 

But God loves his creation, and doesn’t abandon it. He doesn’t abandon it. He doesn’t crumple up his work and throw it into the corner. He could have made us obedient little automata, but he did not. He made us free, and therefore able to love, and to be loved.

 

Instead, like the true creator that he is, he works with us where we are, he enters into dialogue with his creation, and in Jesus Christ he becomes a part of his creation – bringing it to completion and fulfilment.

So it is that we find Jesus in the wilderness- a blank sheet on which he can rewrite human destiny- being tested by the devil.

 

The devil’s tests all seem terrifically pragmatic. Why wouldn’t we eat when we were hungry? Why not test the promise of God before staking your life on it? Why not accept the power and status that could enable you to achieve so much? Perhaps because in doing so we betray the one who wants to give us all this and more. We stand on a molehill, and think that we can see further than God. We exchange a shoddy compromise for the genuine article.

 

Jesus is invited, like Adam, to settle for the empty satisfactions of the world: to act independently, and to question God’s declaration at his baptism: ‘You are my Son.’  

But where Adam succumbed, Jesus is victorious. The continuing work of creation is set on a new and fruitful course in the life, and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

We often find ourselves, both individually, and as a church accepting the devil’s bargain: Seeking satisfaction in things that ultimately will not satisfy, and glory in things that will decay. We do this every time we prioritise our own comfort and security over the needs of others, whenever we choose public image over moral integrity, and safety over the risk of discipleship.

 

As we follow our Lenten discipline of prayer and fasting, we deny ourselves these false promises. We choose instead to co-operate with God’s work of creation within us and through us, bringing us and all things to perfection.

 

This is a work of trust, of faith, in which we allow God to complete in us the work of art He has begun, not by imposing his Will, but by reconciling us to himself in Love.