Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 5, 2006
The Gospel: Mark 1: 29-39
Sermon: "Temptation Does Not Mean The Devil Made Me Do It"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1: 29-39
Temptation Does Not Mean The Devil Made Me Do It
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - February 5, 2006
One of the favorite shows in our house as I grew up was "The Flip Wilson Variety Show". I remember the family gathering in the den to see what antics and characters Flip Wilson would develop next. One of our favorite characters that Flip played was Geraldine. She was a flirt. She flirted with every guest he brought on the show. If the guest responded to her advances she would back away and threaten them with her boyfriend "Killer". However, my favorite part was when she got caught doing something wrong and ended up trying to explain her actions. She never could explain the situation properly. She would get stuck and then she would deliver the line, "The devil made me do it." It wasn't so much the line as her conviction as she said the statement. As she said those words, the listener felt she really believed that it wasn't her fault. She did not give into temptation. She did not get caught flirting or stealing. The devil made her do it, so punish him and not her.
Well, while we may have enjoyed the show tremendously, we also knew the truth about Geraldine. Temptation got the better of her. Even though we laughed at Flip Wilson's portrayal, we also were laughing at a reality for all of us. Temptation is very real. Temptation comes to us in many ways. Sometimes temptation is visual. We see something we really want or desire. We like the look of that new car. We don't need it, but we want it. Sometimes temptation is audible. We hear about something from a friend and we think we really want it. Or perhaps, we go to a store and we hear the salesperson say, "Oh, that is really you. You just have to get it." Yes, temptation is very real in our daily lives.
Temptation was very real for Jesus, too. We all know the story of the temptation in the wilderness for forty days. Sometimes I think we have a little misunderstanding about that event. Some people believe that those forty days were the only time he was tempted. When he overcame those temptations, some believe he was not tempted again. Yet, we read about Jesus being tempted in today's scriptures. Jesus is in Capernaum. He had been teaching in the synagogue and he cast out a demon. He leaves the synagogue and goes to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. When he arrives he finds their mother is ill. He heals her. As a result of these events, the townspeople bring the sick and possessed to him at the house. He cured the diseases and cast out the demons. The townspeople were even more amazed.
Can we imagine what is happening here? The people are spreading the word about Jesus already. They are telling about his healing power. Here is a man that can cure your ills. If you have a family member in trouble with illnesses or other unexplainable maladies, Jesus can heal them. The news spreads like wildfire. What we need to know is that there were other people who were also faith healers and such of the day. They were called thaumaturges. They would come to a town and stay a few days and heal the sick. I'm sure some of them were legitimate, but I suspect others were not. Jesus was being hailed as the real thing. People were beginning to come to see and experience this healing man for themselves.
The next morning Jesus arises early to go and pray. The scriptures tell us he went to a deserted place. There is a play on words here. The deserted place means a lonely place. However, the word is used to also bring reference to the desert experience of the temptation. For when Jesus is found by Simon and others, they tell him everyone is looking for him. The townspeople want him to stay. They want him to continue the healings he began from the day before. Their words are tempting. Jesus could stay and be the faith healer. Jesus could be stay and be famous. His fame would spread far and wide. Sure he could teach, but he wouldn't be known for his teaching. He would always be known for his healing. It would be a comfortable life. It would be easy. It would be safe. Oh, the temptation is present. The temptation is genuine. The temptation is real. He could have anything he wanted. He would have power, fame, prestige, money, an easy life. All of the things with which he was tempted in the wilderness, these people would gladly give him.
Jesus is faced with a choice. Does he stay and accrue all the things we just listed or does he go to do the work he has been called to do? We know the answer. Somehow, I don't think the choice was an easy one. After all, he could justify it. If he stayed he would be helping people by healing them and teaching some. However, he isn't called to be just a healer or a teacher. His work is to share the message of the love of God throughout all of Israel and then to the world. Capemaum was where his work began. It was not where his work was to be finished.
We get tempted just like Jesus did. We get tempted to stay in our comfort zones, don't we? I have what I want I can just sit back and relax. We might find ourselves thinking along these lines, "I have a nice home. I have a car. I have my health. I have enough money. The world can just pass me by." We even get this way about our church. This church is just the right size. We know everybody and they know us. We like the way the church looks. It is decorated just the way we want it. We have our calendar of events. We don't want to change it. We love things just the way they are. The temptation is there.
We are not called to be sedentary, satisfied people where the Gospel is concerned. We have a task to do just like Jesus did. Our task is to continue his work in the world around us. We have been called out of our desert to go into the world and proclaim the message of salvation. We are called to tell and show the world that God is real. We are to share by words and actions the incredible love of God that we have received. It is as simple as being hospitable, inviting and friendly. To do the task requires only two things. The first requirement is having faith in God. The second requirement is taking one foot and placing it out there, one in front of the other. God leads the steps. We take them. After all, what will we say if we are asked why we stayed in our comfortable lives and our pretty but empty pews? Somehow, Geraldine's response, "The devil made me do it", rings hollow.