Comedian Dana Carvey's Church Lady shtick from the 90s poked gentle fun of people who found the hand of the Adversary behind every variety of human wrongdoing. In wondering aloud what could motivate the guests on her show to get into the trouble they were currently in, the Church Lady would often shock everyone with her sudden rush to judgement: "Could it be......Satan??" As she pronounced that latter word, the her voice would be augmented by reverberating echoes. The Church Lady's zeal in associating human wrongdoing with Satan notwithstanding, the problem of human sin cannot be pinned entirely on the Deceiver. Still, the Scriptures make it clear that the Enemy is real. His danger is nothing to make light of.
All the more reason why the first Sunday of Lent is important for Christians. Yes, the Deceiver is still in the business of deceiving. No, Jesus would not be the last person on earth to ever endure temptation. But we begin Lent with a focus on Jesus taking on the Enemy and coming out on the other side. Mark tells us little about this encounter with Satan, but he lets us know that when Jesus' time in the wilderness is over, it's not long before he is casting evil spirits out of those possessed by them. Satan's days are numbered.
The One who overcomes the Deceiver is with us during our times of trial. Because of Jesus, our trials are not, in the end, make-or-break moments. The One who possesses us through the water of Holy Baptism is with us everywhere...even our own personal wildernesses. His victory is ours. Because of Jesus we are not so much tempted as tested. And by the grace of God, even our mistakes can lead to greater growth
Brian Stoffregen tells a story about such testing. Remember the wise man at the top of the mountain? A seeker after truth came to the man at the top of the mountain for guidance.
"Tell me, wise one, how did you become holy?"
"And what are they, please?"
The seeker was fascinated. "How does one learn to choose rightly?"
"One word! May I have it, please?" the seeker asked.
The seeker was thrilled. "How does one grow?"
"What are they, pray tell?"
As people who, by the grace of God...and because of Jesus...share in the victory of God's Son, we are declared "holy" because of Jesus' perfect obedience, and so are not so much tempted as TESTED in our times of trial. Alert and of sober mind, let us steer clear of temptation. But never despairing of our mistakes, let us also look to the Lord for the growth that only God can give.