Like many of you, I watched events unfold in Westminster earlier this week with some anxiety. When I lived in London, I would go to Westminster Bridge to think, to look out over the river and to watch people passing. It is a funny thing to see your ‘safe place’ breached. Parliament in the Palaces of Westminster has been for centuries a symbol of democracy, and an act of violence on its doorstep was understandably a frightening thing.
In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted three times. First, to break his fast by turning stones into bread. Then, to jump from the pinnacle of the temple to demonstrate the love of God. Finally, to take possession of the earth’s dominions by worshipping his tempter. These temptations have in common that they are designed to tempt Jesus into demonstrating his power even at the cost of the law of God he holds dear.
Jesus could be tempted because he was fully human as well as fully divine. He could be tempted because he was isolated and hungry. He could be tempted, because we can all be tempted. This week, we are scared. Temptation comes easily when people are scared. It would be easy to be tempted to mistrust, especially as the newspapers and websites we read continue to recycle the same lines about “conversion to Islam”, “radicalism”, and “identity crisis”. It would be easy to succumb to the voice of the tempter that repeats these lines until they apply not only to this one man but to anyone who looks like him, prays like him, or shares his heritage.
It is tempting to prevail on the power we have at our disposal (our elected representatives, for example) to challenge or hurt other people because we have been hurt. It is tempting to turn against refugees, economic migrants, or imprisoned criminals. But Christ who modelled resistance to temptation tells us only to serve the law of God, and the law of God tells us to love our neighbour (from wherever they came) as ourselves, and to forgive those who harm us seventy-times-seven times.
As we approach the time when we are invited to remember the persecution of Christ at the hands of powerful people who accused him of threatening their power, we recall our own temptation to turn from enthusiastic supporters of Christ to the people who condemn him. We have a choice whether to succumb to the temptation to cast our blame far and wide, or to forgive the attacker and care for his victims and their families. Let us pray to follow the path of Christ this Lent.