Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent One: Reflections on "The Imperial Temptation" by Marcus Borg

LENT I — February 17  
Luke 4:1-13

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. Jesus ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Chosen One, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’” Then the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying, “If you are the Chosen One, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘God will command angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Having finished every test, the devil departed from him until an opportune time.

Reflection from Marcus Borg* on The Third Temptation

The third temptation. “You can have all the kingdoms of the Earth if you will fall down and worship me,” the devil says to Jesus. “You can have all the kingdoms of the Earth.” 

On a personal level, I suppose this is the temptation to power; perhaps even to wealth; to standing out, if you will.  But it's also the imperial temptation--the temptation to rule the world.

This is the temptation that we as a nation face in our time, for we are the imperial power of our time.  Ever since the end of the Cold War, we are the world's only superpower, and that power is made up of two elements: military power and economic power.  Those are the two classical marks of empire.

Empire is not simply about geographical expansion.  Empire is possessing military and economic power to such a degree that you can shape the world in your own interest.  We, the United States, are the imperial power of our time, and how we use that matters greatly. 

It's very important to realize that in the First Century, the phrase “Kingdom of God” was a political metaphor, and it was also a religious metaphor. Jesus could have talked about the community of God or the family of God, but he talks about the Kingdom of God.

 He lived in a world in which there were other kingdoms.  When he spoke about the Kingdom of God, his hearers would have thought to themselves, “Well, we know about the kingdom of Herod, and we know about the kingdom of Caesar. Here is this fellow talking about the Kingdom of God. That must be something different.”

The imperial temptation is the temptation that we now face as a country.  It is a test of loyalty that faces us as Christians.  I don't mean that Christians can come out on only one side of an issue.  But I do mean that Christian reflection needs to take seriously the Biblical suspicion of empire and Christian teaching about war and peace.

We need to be as thoughtful, responsible, and creative as possible in the use of our imperial power … for imperial power can be used in two very different ways.  We can use it to control the world in our own self-interest – to structure the system so that it serves us to impose our will on the world.  Or imperial power can be used to build up.  We can use it with the world's well-being in mind, rather than with primarily our own well-being in mind.

Lent is a season in which we are reminded of the temptations that face us, not just in this hour, but more comprehensively across our lives – a season of repentance in which we need to be discerning about the temptations of our lives.  In this season, we are called to repent, which means to return to God – to reconnect with the one from whom we came and in whom we live and move and have our being.  It means to go beyond the mind that we have as we learn once again and learn more deeply: that we do not live by bread alone, that we should not put God to the test, that we are to worship and serve God alone, that God alone is our Lord. Amen.


* We are delighted to welcome noted theologian and gifted teacher Marcus Borg as the keynote speaker for All Saints’ LENT EVENT 2013. Internationally known in both academic and church circles as a leading biblical and Jesus scholar, Dr. Borg has been in the forefront of the movement calling the church to reclaim the Christianity of Jesus by putting its faith in action in the world. For more information or to register for the Lent Event click here.

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