Read the Gospel text here: St. Matthew 4:1-11
Read the Old Testament text here: Genesis 2:15-3:7
THEME & VARIATIONS
In the area of Music Appreciation one of the most important things you need to learn in order to be able to fully understand and appreciate the music of some of the great composers, such as Mozart and Beethoven, is form. The form is the structure of a musical composition and there are several standard forms that were used by the great composers. One of the most popular was a form called “Theme and Variations.” This was a standard form and often the first assignment that a student composer was given was to take a particular tune and compose a set of variations on the tune. The way it works is this: there is a tune or a melody that is usually somewhat familiar. After the listeners are reminded of the tune then there follows a series of variations that usually get progressively more complex as they proceed. But the rule is that there has to be a connection somehow with the theme – so that even if it is masked you can still find the theme in some way (melodically, harmonically or rhythmically), even if it is masked in some way.
Our Gospel text for today tells the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan and when he is coming out of the water the heavens are open and a voice rings forth approval as the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. And then this Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights (think Noah, Moses, the people of Israel and Elijah). At the end of this time the devil comes to Jesus and makes three offers: Since you are the Son of God (p.s. the Greek here is the word “since” not “if”) turn these stones into bread (comfort); …. Throw yourself down from the temple (security-manipulation of God); … worship me (power, wealth and glory)!
These are the variations on an old tune: In Genesis 3 (our OT lesson for today) the serpent says to Eve in verse 5: take and eat the fruit because then…you will be like God…. That is the old, old tune which human beings have been singing since the dawn of time – aspiring to put themselves into the place of God. Adam and Eve succumbed to this temptation and the consequence was banishment. The bible is filled with story after story of human beings who are constantly presuming that they can put themselves in the place of God. This comes in the form of lack of trust or by presuming power that is not theirs or in the lust for the acquisition of power and glory; it comes in the attitude of invincibility and entitlement; it comes in the form of arrogance; it comes in the form of placing me and my comfort and my power and wealth above others, and thus above God.
These are all variations on the theme. And the theme has a name: Original Sin; and the temptations that Jesus stood against are the standard variations of this theme: my comfort; my security; my presuming God’s power and agenda; my power and glory and wealth. These are the same temptations with which we struggle as well. How often do we put our own comfort, security, wealth and status above others and God?
Finally, it is important to remember that we are not Jesus and no matter how hard we try to resist these temptation variations we will fail at times. But because of Jesus; because Jesus did not fail; because Jesus died and rose again we can be assured of God’s love and grace and forgiveness. And so, during this Lenten time we are called to recognize the times when we have been seduced by the temptation variations, ask for forgiveness and move forward, assured of God’s love, grace and forgiveness in Christ, Jesus our Lord.