The Scripture reading for the first Sunday of Lent was Luke 4:1-13. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where he spent 40 days and where he was tempted by the devil. Jenni Whitford, our Director for children’s ministry, sent me a cartoon that showed Jesus writing a letter which said, “Dear Mom, Gone into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. Don’t worry! XO J.” The heading above says, “It sure wasn’t easy being the mother of Jesus…” (The cartoon is by Cuyler Black.)
The devil tempted Jesus to be someone else—to be a different kind of “Son of God.” All kinds of questions come up in such temptations—for Jesus and for us. Who are you, really? Can you really trust God? Shouldn’t you take matters into your own hands—do it your way instead of the Father’s way?
We are spending 40 days, too, 40 days preparing to serve and follow our Lord. 40 days to get the spiritual exercise we need to help us grow. 40 days to help us truly experience and live into the resurrection power our Lord offers us.
During these 40 days we are studying the parables of Jesus. We will have a sermon series on the parables, and we have Lenten Bible studies on the parables. We also have booklets of daily Lenten devotions focused on the parables.
In our Bible study on the first Sunday of Lent we looked at a parable. Strangely enough, it was not one of Jesus’ parables. It was from 2 Samuel 12:1-9. It is a parable told by the prophet Nathan to King David.
David has just failed grievously in the face of temptation (see 2 Samuel 11). He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then had Bathsheba’s husband killed. The prophet Nathan comes to David and tells the king a story about a poor man who has a lamb. The lamb is very dear to him. A rich man, who has lots of flocks and herds, entertains a guest. But instead of using one of his own animals, he takes the poor man’s only lamb, kills it, and serves it to his guest.
David, upon hearing this, says, “The man who has done this deserves to die!” Nathan then says those unforgettable words: “You are the man.”
We talked about this in class. Nathan tells a parable. Why? Maybe that was the only way to get into David’s heart. Maybe that was the only way to avoid all of his defenses, all of his resistance, all of his denials and avoidance. The parable seems to get into David, and David gets into the parable. And David is changed. Psalm 51 is a prayer attributed to David after his encounter with Nathan. It is an extraordinary prayer of repentance, and it includes these words: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
Parables are powerful. They are a tremendous gift to us. May this season be fruitful for the Kingdom of God as we open ourselves to the parables and as we let God do God’s work in us.