Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

Scripture: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

I think you all probably know by now that I love a good fantasy novel. I love a good Star Wars–well, anything, really. I love a good superhero movie. I love a good sci-fi series. I love all of it!

And one of the things that I love about all of these types of stories is the fight: the struggle of people to be better and to defeat evil in their world. The struggle of good vs. evil, in other words. Whether it’s Han Solo leaving his selfishness behind to fight for the Rebellion or the heroes of the latest fantasy novel I’ve picked up finally being able to work together–I just love it.

And I’m not alone in this: superhero movies have been huge lately; fantasy is alive and kicking. But more than that, we see this tendency in mystery shows, where our heroes discover the culprit by the end of the episode. We see it in action movies, where the villain has been defeated with a dramatic battle. We see it in most books and movies, where the face of evil may be a bit less overt, but the job or boyfriend or past demons are overcome so that our main characters can have a happy ending. 

And we see it in other ways, too: in politics, where both sides accuse the other side of being terrifyingly horrible; in the ways we talk about crime or immigration or jobs, and the way we accuse another group and another person of being totally at fault; sometimes even in our own lives, where we make someone into a villain. 

There’s something satisfying about being able to say, “That’s the villain, and that’s the hero, and never the two shall meet.” 

And we see it in our gospel story today: here Jesus is sent into the wilderness, where the devil tests Him. The devil offers Jesus three temptations, and Jesus easily sidesteps all three of them, apparently uninterested despite my favorite understatement of the entire Bible: after not eating for forty days and forty nights, Jesus was “hungry.” Not famished, not starving, not even hungry enough to eat a horse. Just “hungry”. So the devil and Jesus struggle in the wilderness, throwing Scripture back and forth at each other. Jesus triumphs; the devil leaves Him. 

It’s an appropriate story to begin the season of Lent with. Lent is a time in the wilderness, the rough places that seem to be full of temptations and questions and we wonder where, exactly, God is. Maybe this year that isn’t you, and it seems that you’re seeing God all around you; maybe it is, and you’re scoffing inside because you’ve been in this place all year, or for who knows how long. That is the beauty of the church year, as we cycle through some of the phases of our Christian life: it may not line up with your own journey, but it reminds us that the wilderness is a part of life, same as the celebrations and ordinary time and everything in between.

There are two things I’d like to draw out of this story of Jesus’ temptation and give to you this morning. The first is the beginning of the story: we read that the Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. This time of fasting and temptation was intentional. And yet so often we think that God only wants us to be happy. We think God wants us to have good and happy lives, and usually when we think that we mean having a house and a car and a job and a happy, healthy family. 

And I’m not saying God wants us to be miserable, because that is not true. But sometimes God sends us to difficult places. Sometimes we are sent into the wilderness, to struggle and be tempted.

And Jesus’ struggles and obedience here foreshadow what is to come: Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s way is a way of quiet obedience and trust, love and suffering.

The second is about what this means for us and our own wilderness times, our own temptations–because none of us are getting tempted with a chance to rule the world. The very real temptations we all face do not look like a supervillain coming and trying to trick us into some villainy that will change the world. It looks like the temptation to yell at someone because the supermarket didn’t have the cake you need for the party that’s starting in fifteen minutes. It looks like the temptation to cut someone off in traffic (all the time). It looks like the temptation to just leave that until tomorrow. It looks like the temptation to leave the important truth unspoken between you and the people you love. It looks like all sorts of small things that we should and shouldn’t do. 

It’s tempting to view temptation, and the fights for good and evil, as only the huge, explosion-filled fights of movies, complete with dramatic soundtrack. We all know our lives are not like that, and that no one is going to make a movie about the fact that we found our keys after losing them for the fifth time this week–not that that’s a temptation, it just feels like a victory worthy of a movie sometimes. Or the fact that we didn’t try to trick anyone else into doing the dishes because we don’t feel like it, which is a constant temptation for me even though I live alone. But the choices we make are still important. 

And so, as we go into life and face our own temptations, may God give us the strength to stand strong. May you know that God goes with you wherever your path leads. And may you remember the importance of small moments.