One of Aesop’s Fables is about an argument between the wind and the sun. The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his coat shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his coat round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone gently; getting warmer and warmer upon the traveler, who soon found it too warm to walk with his coat on and took it off.
I was thinking of this fable because it reminded me in a way of what we hear today taking place with Jesus in the desert. In our Gospel, Satan is like the wind trying to prove that he is stronger than God. He tempts Jesus in every way he can imagine – wealth, power, fame. But, as in our fable, the Son is stronger. It wasn’t the might of these worldly temptations that won over Jesus, but the gentle persuasion of prayer and fasting that won the day.
While Jesus faced his temptations in the desert, ours usually have a way of finding us. Satan’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own temptations. Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” [Hold up stone] Look at this. This is what Satan wants Jesus to turn to in order to find happiness in life. My brothers and sisters, this stone is dead. Satan has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something that is completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him truly happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; and true happiness. Satan wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life for Him.
And isn’t that an apropos image for what we do in our own lives? We all have stones in our own life that we stare at commanding them to give us life; commanding them to make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. These things will never give us life. Perhaps your stone is pride, a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have; or wanting what others have. Perhaps we seek life from a stone of materialism, that shop-till-you-drop mentality that causes people to simply want and seek more things, all the while blinding ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us.
Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we instead turn to food to stuff our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these to number ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at the box than we do spending time with our families or just as importantly in prayer with our God?
All of us have stones that we look at; we stare at; that we command to give us life and happiness. But, my brothers and sisters, these rocks are dead. They will never – ever – give us life. Perhaps you’ve come to this recognition in your life – that the stones you have turned to are not providing what they promised? Perhaps you are seeking something truly life giving; something with real meaning; that gives true and lasting happiness?
As always, Jesus has the answer. As always, Jesus IS the answer. My friends, as find ourselves on this first Sunday of our Lenten journey, right here, right now, today in this church, Jesus is inviting us to do something radical – He is inviting us to put our stones down. He wants us to let go of those things that we falsely think will give us happiness, life and peace. All that these stones are successful at doing is binding us, holding us down, stealing our freedom, making us slaves – slaves to sin. Jesus wants us instead to put those stones down and journey with Him to a place of true freedom; true happiness; true peace – the fullness of the life He promised us.
Let us pledge today to pray for one another during these weeks of Lent and beyond. Let us pledge today to throw away the stones. Let us pledge today to turn away from a life of sin and slavery and choose the life of freedom and holiness that Jesus offers to us. Let us pray in the words of our opening prayer, Loving Father, “bring us back to you and to the life your son won for us by his death on the cross.” My friends, throw away the stones.
May God give you peace.