Whatever lies the Great Liar whispers in your ear and plants in your heart, hear this truth: you are God’s child, you are beloved, and you are well-pleasing to God. (With thanks for the insight of Christopher L. Heuertz who made the connection between Nouwen’s famous “three lies” and the temptation of Jesus. The Sacred Enneagram, Zondervan, 2017, pp. 186-189)
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday in Lent, year A
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
That’s what the Greeks meant by their word diabolos, a word translated “devil” in our Gospel today, a word that is diabolical in English.
So Jesus, soaking wet from his baptism, heads into the desert, where the Slanderer whispers lies into his ear, lies intended to destroy Jesus’ sense of his identity, his truth, his purpose in life.
But Jesus is dripping with baptismal water, and the Liar doesn’t seem to notice. Or maybe doesn’t understand that’s a problem. But those baptismal waters are the end of the slander and lies.
Dutch priest and theologian Henri Nouwen famously spoke of three lies we believe about ourselves, lies that kill us.
There is the lie, “I am what I do.” The lie that my value and identity come from what I accomplish, what my job is, from my success.
There is also the lie, “I am what other people say or think about me.” The lie that my value and identity come from others, from what they say I’m worth, what they think about me.
And there is this lie: “I am what I have.” The lie that my value and identity come from what I possess, what I’ve accumulated, what I own and control.
These three lies destroy our sense of our identity, our truth, our purpose in life. And strangely, these are the three lies the Slanderer whispers to Jesus in the desert.
Are you really God’s Son? the Liar said. Can you do anything?
Could you turn these stones into bread? If not, what are you worth?
But Jesus still has water dripping off him from the Jordan and he knows what he heard from his Father’s voice: “You are my Son.” He doesn’t need to prove that. He is a child of God.
You remember that, too, when the Liar whispers in your ear that you arent’ successful enough or don’t have abilities, or can’t prove you belong to God in any way worth noticing. The Liar has forgotten that you’re dripping wet, too, and you’ve heard the same voice of the Triune God saying to you: “You are my child.”
That is your truth, child of God.
So the Slanderer whispered another lie. How sure are you that you matter to God?
Do you really think you’re protected, safe, secure? This mission you’re going to do, Jesus, isn’t going to end well. Do you think God cares for you? the Liar asks Jesus.
But Jesus is soaking wet, and knows what he heard from his Father’s voice: “You are my beloved.” Even within the life of the Trinity, these words were precious and life-giving: I love you. Jesus doesn’t need to test that, either, jump off a high building to see if he’ll be safe. He is God’s beloved.
You remember that, too, child of God, when the Liar whispers in your heart that you really aren’t important enough to matter to God. That if God really loved you you wouldn’t get sick, or you wouldn’t have setbacks or suffering. Because the Liar has again forgotten that you’re soaking wet, too, and you’ve heard the same voice of the Triune God saying to you: “You are my beloved.”
That is your truth, beloved child of God.
There’s one more lie to attempt.
Surely, Jesus, you can’t believe you’re important if you control nothing? You’re poor, insignificant, with no political or religious authority. If only you had control of this world, you’d know you were the Messiah. I could do that for you, the Liar said.
But Jesus shakes the water from his head and remembers what he heard from his Father’s voice: “I am well pleased with you.” Jesus doesn’t need wealth or possessions or control or power to prove he is doing what God wants, or to heal the world with God’s sacrificial love.
You remember that, too, beloved child of God, when the Slanderer whispers to you that you really can’t know God is pleased with you if you don’t have possessions and wealth, visible signs of blessing. That you need power and control to heal your world with God’s love. Because the Liar has forgotten, again, that you have water to shake from your head, too, and you’ve heard the same voice of the Triune God saying to you: “I am well pleased with you.”
That is your truth, beloved and well-pleasing child of God.
The Slanderer really ought to remember that these lies all have a warning attached: do not fully immerse in water.
Because your baptismal waters, still clinging to you, still quenching your thirst, still cooling your brow, still cleaning your heart, dissolve any lies about who you are, what God thinks of you, and whether you are following God faithfully.
You are God’s child. You are God’s beloved. You are well-pleasing to God. There is no other truth that matters for you, ever.
And Jesus says if you know the truth, you are free. Free of fear. Free of lies. Free to follow Jesus’ cross-shaped path and be who God says you are.
And the Liar has nothing to say to you ever again.
In the name of Jesus. Amen