Mark 1:9-15; Matthew 4:1-11
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
I want to share a story with you. A three year old came to her mother holding in one hand her great grandmother’s vase, saying, “Mommy, I’m stuck.” Her other hand couldn’t be seen. It was stuck inside the vase. Her mother tried to move quickly without panicking because the vase was valuable to her. Holding the vase and her little girl, she carried her girl to the kitchen sink. She used warm soapy water to try to loosen the toddler’s hand, which was indeed stuck. When soap didn’t work, she reached for the butter. While greasing her child’s wrist like a cake pan, she asked the obvious mother’s question. “How in the world did you do this?” The girl explained that she dropped candy down into the vase to see if she could still see it when it was at the very bottom. She couldn’t. When she reached in for her candy, she couldn’t get her hand back out.
The more time went on, the more serious the whole situation became. The mother called grandmother to come over and help assess the situation. A neighbor suggested Vaseline. The apartment manager got the WD40. Still no luck. It seemed like the only way to get the child’s hand out was to break the vase. Grandma arrived with her calming presence and went over to the little child, who was very upset and still very stuck. “Sweetheart,” she said gently, “mommy says you reached in the vase for candy. Is that right?” “Mmm-hmm,” the child whimpered, still breathless from crying. “Honey, tell grandma the truth now. Do you still have a hold of that candy?” “Mmm-hmm,” she sobbed. The grandmother patted her back to comfort her. “Let it go, child. Let it go.” The vase slipped off as smooth as silk.
The Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday when we remember that Jesus took forty days in the wilderness for prayer and contemplation. It is traditionally a time when we take a serious look at our lives. We look long and hard at ourselves and discover some things we don’t like. It’s time for some self-assessment. It’s time for some change. On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we came from dust and that we will return to dust. We recognize that none of us is invincible; none is immortal; we all will die. It is a day when we recognize that each moment is a gift and not to be wasted each day.
Today’s scripture shows us how Jesus prepared for his public ministry. Through baptism, he was justified by God as the Son of God. Even after baptism and justification, we see that Jesus was tempted by Satan. We might be curious why Jesus needs baptism and why Jesus was tempted by Satan since he was the Son of God. I think that Jesus wanted to show us what would happen in our faith journey. Even after baptism, confirmation, and being born again in Christ, we might be tempted by the evil things in our faith journey. I do appreciate the Christian calendar of the lectionary, which is the traditional Christian rite. If we follow the Christian calendar, at least once a year, we have time to assess ourselves and an opportunity to return to God in faith.
Mark 1:12 shows us the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert, where Satan tempted him. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit leads us to the place where we would be tempted, which means it might be work for church ministry. But we have to pay attention to Matthew 4:1-11, how Jesus overcame all temptations. According to Matthew, Jesus was tempted by Satan with three types of temptation: bread (materials), pride (honor of the world), and power of the world. The three temptations exist among human society to tempt people. For a person who is hungry for forty days, bread is necessary. It shows us the poor might be tempted by bad circumstances. So, food ministry is very significant as Jesus fed the poor. Also, a person who can do everything is not easy to control by him/herself. It is like a desire of the people who have the power to rule over the powerless. Jesus can jump down from the Temple’s top, but he didn’t. The devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written He will command his angels concerning you” (Matthew 4:6). When Jesus was on the cross, the same temptation came to him by people, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40). Evil knew who we are very well, as Satan knew Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, if you are in a position with authority or the power of the world, you have to be careful. The second temptation shows people who have the power.
The third temptation shows the people who suffer for success in the world. Some say, “if I can achieve success in the world, I can sell my soul to Satan.” Matthew 4:8-9 says, “again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.’” Jesus showed us to overcome all temptations with the word of God. During Lenten, I hope that you may start reading the scripture in your daily life. God’s word is not just written in the Book of the Bible but is the living word. The Letter of Hebrew says, “for the word of God is living and active. Shaper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). As we study the United Methodists’ belief and practice the Lenten Bible Study, United Methodists are the people of the Bible. John Wesley, who is the founder of Methodism, thinks of the Bible as the primary source of the way to salvation. Jesus and John Wesley had time to carry the burden and be tempted, but they overcame the situation with God’s word.
There was a time when Jesus was burdened. He carried the burden of a beam on his back. His burden required both hands. The hands that carried the cross bore the wounds. His head was bowed low when he prayed that the cup might pass from him. It was bowed low when he carried the cross. It hung low when he died on the cross. But when Friday’s sorrow turned to Easter joy, our burdens were no more. You see, if Jesus Christ was powerful enough not to be stuck in the grave, then there is nothing in this life that can keep us stuck. We are an unstuck people, free in Jesus Christ!
I know we are free in Jesus Christ, but sometimes we still feel so stuck. You may ask, “why do I let things take hold of me? What can I do to experience the freedom that is mine in Christ?” If you listen ever so closely, you can hear Christ whispering like a loving grandma, “Let it go, child. Let it go.” Even if your being stuck is so old you can’t remember its name, let it go, child, let it go. Whatever it is-that favorite sin, that pet worry, that sweet habit that has you stuck-If you release it, you can be free. If you are too greedy or too scared to let it go, you may go around the rest of your life with a jar on your hand or a monkey on your back, or knot on your gut. Open your fists, and let the candy go so you can open your hands to Christ’s grace.
We each have our pet sins, our heaviest burdens that we need to release and be released from if we are to follow Christ with grace and joy. Sometimes it is helpful to write that burden on the strip of paper you have been given. During Lent, I hope that you are able to write your burdens and prayers and put them on the prayer board, and we can burn them on Holy Saturday. If you can’t write them, you may tell God in silent prayer. Express what being stuck feels like, how it is exhausting and familiar, and how you can’t remember what it feels like to be unstuck. And ask God through Jesus Christ to help you release it, let it go. When you have prayed, that prayer brings your clenched fists to the cross and releases them so that you can experience freedom. When you let it go from your hand, you are symbolically giving it to God to dispose of it permanently. What made you stuck? Please open your fists, and let the candy go. Thanks be to God! Amen.