Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

"...praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out."
As I read the texts I had chosen for Mercy Street's observance of Ash Wednesday, I thought of the Eleventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. In Luke 4 we read the account of the temptation of Jesus that follows his 40 wilderness days and nights, one of the traditional texts read at the beginning of Lent. As Jesus begins his long journey to the cross, the deceiver tempts him to choose an easier, softer way. At one point he quotes scripture in an attempt to lure Jesus into a highly visible and dramatic public act: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from [the pinnacle of the temple]; for it is written, 'He will give His angels charge to guard you...on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone."

Angels show up again in Mark's far more sparse account of Jesus' time in the wilderness: "And he was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to him."

Our third reading was also from Luke's gospel, chapter 22 - Jesus' temptation at the end of his long journey. As he kneels in the garden, the posture of surrender, and asks his Father to take this bitter cup from him, he states "yet not my will, but yours be done." And then an angel shows up once more, "...strengthening him. And being in agony he was praying fervently." And then at some point he rose from prayer. Just like that. The wrestling was over, the agony passed. As he rouses his friends Jesus repeats his exhortation, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."

I was drawn to the angels in these narratives, or, more specifically, the role they play. In the garden, the angel strengthens Jesus to continue praying for God's will to be done. In the desert, the angels minister to Jesus in the midst of temptation. How different from the role the silken words of the deceiver portray - rather than strengthening Jesus in the very midst of the struggle, these angels will miraculously enable Jesus to avoid the struggle, so that he won't even stub a toe, let alone sweat in agony as he wrestles with temptation.

Which angels are we inclined to ask God to send? 'Guardian angels' to protect us, to deliver us from temptation (so that we do not have to wrestle between self-will and God's will)? Or, as I do indeed wrestle with my will, as I struggle to surrender, do I look for the angel that will strengthen me to keep struggling - not deliver me from the struggle? Do we pray to be delivered from temptation, or do we pray "only for the knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out?"


Pete the Brit said...

Thanks for that Sean. I was dissapointed that I didn't get out of bed for the 7am Service (but I was at the Noon and the 7pm one!!!). It's good to read what you were thinking about though. Great insight :) Even though I'd much rather have some of the other solutions than the ones the Angels offer.

The Martins in Iowa said...

Thanks for your thoughts Sean. I've been spending some time in the Jacob story--esp with the wrestling account, and your thoughts here tie in well, and shed more light on it.