“We usually know what we can do, but temptation shows us who we are.”
— Thomas à Kempis
What do you think about when you hear the word temptation? This week we continue our Lenten worship series, “Gifts of the Dark Wood,” with “The Gift of Temptation.” We’ll look at temptation in a couple of different ways than we usually do: temptation as testing and temptation as the temptation to do good.
Good? As strange as that seems, there is the temptation to do good, but the “wrong” good. That is, the good that is not ours to do.
In the book we are following during this Lenten season — “Gifts of the Dark Wood” — author Eric Elnes writes, “Finding your own distinct path in life involves more than applying reason, logic, and strategy . . . it’s a bit like walking in the dark. In a very real sense, you do not find your path. Your path finds you. More precisely, the path that fits you best is revealed to you.”
In our scripture lesson, we find Jesus in the wilderness being tempted — tested. One of those temptations is to do something that could be very good: turn the stones into bread. It’s certainly tempting. He’s hungry. By doing that, he could not only feed himself, but everyone else. But, he chooses a different path. It is a test, really — a sharpening of his understanding of his own mission and purpose before he begins his public ministry.
Looking at our scripture in this way reminds me of Robert Frost’s powerful poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Our temptation, like the traveler in Frost’s poem, is often to take the more traveled way. It’s a good path. But the traveler in Frost’s poem doesn’t do that. Rather, he takes the path his intuition — his imagination — directs him to take. He finds great rewards on that path — things he could not have planned or anticipated — and that has, he recounts, “made all the difference.” Yet, he remains intrigued by that other, more traveled, path that he did not take. The temptation to take that path somehow continues to be present, although it was the presence of that other path that helped clarify the road he should — and did — take. No wonder, then, that the poem’s title is “The Road Not Taken.” It wasn’t his road to travel, but the temptation to take it helped define the path that was his to take.
Often our choice is not between good and evil, but rather, between good and good. Temptation leads us to the path that may well be good, but isn’t ours to take. This kind of temptation is more like a test that will help us define where God is calling us to go with our lives. In that sense, it is like the testing of Jesus in the Wilderness. Once we recognize the Gift of Temptation for what it is, if we get quiet and listen, our intuition and imagination will reveal the good that is ours to do.
I look forward to exploring the Dark Wood Gift of Temptation with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary services at 9:30 and 11:00 am.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster,