Monday, March 10, 2014

The Temptations of Jesus and Church

The gospel reading this past Sunday (and typically every 1st Sunday of Lent) was of Jesus’ temptations in the desert.  For those unfamiliar with the story, read the first verses of Matthew 4 (1 – 11 I believe).  It was noted in the priest’s homily that the three temptations of Jesus are categories of temptations we all face.  The first temptation was physical (satisfy a guilty pleasure), the second spiritual (seeking mystical power), and the third civil/political.

An interesting point that was made was in relation to the third temptation.  Here, Jesus is offered the whole world if he worships Satan.  In a sense, it would fulfill Jesus’ mission.  He would save the world, but the means to that end are severely perverted and twisted.  Of course, Jesus rebukes Satan, using scripture to thwart his temptations.

This got me thinking about how various Christians and churches have gotten caught up in the whirlwind of a “market driven” model a la Willow Creek, Joel Osteen, or almost any other “megachurch”.  Seemingly at these kinds of churches, there are coffeehouses, cafes, and some even have chain restaurants like McDonald's or Subway within their walls!  The church where my wife works has also become swept up into this mode of “quantity beats all”, with a goal of having 250 guests enter their doorstep over the course of 2014.  Mind you, this particular church has roughly 350 members, a far cry from the thousands a megachurch typically has.

I have always had my own qualms with churches that operate like this, but in thinking about Jesus’ temptation, it gives me new pause to how we do Church.  Could we be feeding people a lie and not the whole truth by luring them in with flashy lights, projection screens… material fluff?  It also gives me pause when I think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21ff:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”

It’s a sobering thought to be sure!  How can we know we are doing it right, that we are serving God’s true purpose?  Look at Jesus’ example; he used God’s Word.  For me as a Catholic, this includes not only the Bible, but the teachings of the Church (aka Tradition).  One particular passage that has always been with me when thinking about market driven churches is Matthew 28:19f, which many refer to as the Great Commission:

“Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching to obey everything I have commanded you.  And sure I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus does not command us to “go and bring people into the synagogues,” he just says “GO.”  He puts the burden not on our pastors or priests, but on us.  We are the disciples, the teachers, the ones told to go out, the literal meaning of apostle.  We don’t need to be great speakers, just great disciples of Jesus.  As St. Francis of Assisi famously said, “Preach the gospel always.  When necessary, use words.”