Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 1A--a slightly creepy take on temptation...

 Scripture for Lent 1A can be found at


The Spider and the Fly

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;
“’Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”
 “Sweet creature!” said the spider, “You’re witty and you’re wise!
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re pleased to say,
And bidding you good-morning now, I’ll call another day.”
The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon be back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing
“Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with the pearl and silver wing:
Your robes are green and purple; there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead.”

Hearing his wily flattering words, she came slowly flitting by.
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue;
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlor; but she ne’er came out again!”
                                                            Mary Howitt, The Spider and the Fly

The Temptation

A few weeks ago, I shared a sweet contemporary children’s story in order to emphasize the point that the love we are given by others is a means by which we understand the love of God. The Spider and the Fly is not such a story.  Creepy, chilling even, it is a story of tempter and tempted. And, we ache at knowing the fate of the foolish fly and the deceit of the evil spider.

This is, perhaps, a bedtime story best told by light of day.

Where we can shine light into the spider’s den where the carcasses of the fallen, litter the web and be warned against such foolish trust. 

Tempter and tempted, and with that the story of spider and fly finds its origin in scripture where the story of Christianity sets, at its center, the tempter and the tempted—creation going awry even before the apple was bit.

The first one to deviate from God’s intention, the snake. The second the human beings, note the intention plural, human beings whose desire for power outweighs their desire for God.

A cautionary tale emerges when pursuit of power, deceit, shame and regret lead to division--the garden no longer the mutual habitation of the creator and creation.

And, hence the longing. The longing for a return, the longing for the better we not only imagine, but that we have been promised.

But, the maxim, you can’t go home again holds…

The garden is gone. Eden has been lost to us.

Yet, hope. The story is the beginning, but it is NOT the ending. 

The ending involves life, death and resurrection. The ending involves us. The ending is better than the beginning. The story’s ending is not dictated by the wiles of the tempter…it goes on and we embrace a new truth. From this story of deceit and treachery, there emerges another truth. Human beings have the ability to discern good from evil. And, from our discernment emerges the power to choose. And, when the choice is hard we are reminded that we are participants in the divinity of the one who himself rejected the wiles of the tempter.  Because he withstood, so too can we. 

Today’s Gospel takes us to the desert wilderness—where Jesus, like his ancestors in the faith, faces the challenge of starvation and thirst in an ominous landscape. 

Forty days and forty nights of fasting. Yet, even at his weakest, the son of God endures. Endures not just the physical privations, but the spiritual assault of the one we call Satan. 

Satan the means by which we, earthly humans, seek to give form to those incorporeal evils that threaten to corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. Those forces that break and divide—manipulating, deceiving and betraying.

Buy this for beauty. Do this for wealth. Embrace this for pleasure. Fight this for power.

The tempter empowered through our own insecurity. Are we not enough as we have been created?  Are we not the beloved children of God? Are we not heirs to the covenant? Are we not the body of Christ?

The temptation when described as a test, tests something very, very specific. This examination is looking for weakness in Jesus’ knowledge of his own identity as the Son of God—and Jesus passes the test. He will not try God’s love because he trusts God’s love. He will not take bread for himself because his calling is to give bread. He will not take for himself earthly kingdoms because he will receive all power in heaven and earth. He knows himself, and out of this knowledge he cannot be swayed. 

Fourth century Saint, Gregory of Nyssa wrote,

“Our greatest protection is self-knowledge, and to avoid the delusion that we are seeing ourselves when we are in reality looking at something else. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinize themselves. What they see is strength, beauty, reputation, political power, abundant wealth, pomp, self-importance, bodily stature a certain grace of form or the like, and they think that this is what they are.
Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves…how can a person protect what he does not know? The most secure protection for our treasure is to know ourselves...”*

Jesus possesses the self knowledge and confidence that allows him to protect himself from temptation. A self knowledge affirmed and strengthened in that desert wilderness…he is no fly to fall to the spider’s wiles.     

He does not need flattery or power. He knows who he is and to whom he belongs—and from this comes his strength.

On our Lenten journeys, will we deepen our knowledge of who we are and whom we belong, so we too can stand fast when temptation comes?


*Gregory of Nyssa 330-395trans. Herbert Musurilloquoted from Ordinary Graces: Christian Teachings on the Interior Life)

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