Today’s focus—RESISTANCE—comes from the online community called Many Voices; it is a Black Church Movement for Gay and Transgender Justice. As they say on the website, “Black gay and transgender people are too often case studies in discrimination, shame, hardship, insecurity and isolation.” They offered a candle-lighting litany for Lent that we’ve adapted it and are using this year. In the case of Black gay and transgender people, resistance is a keyword.
There are lots of instances of the use of the word resistance. If you Google the word, you get 1 billion, 460 million possibilities, all in .38 seconds! Resistance can be positive in that we resist temptation, we resist that which is negative or harmful, we resist despots and tyrants. Remember the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation? They used to say in a computerish-voice while trying to capture all living sentient beings, “Resistance is futile.” In advocating hope, peace and freedom, it is never futile. Think of the resistance fighters in WW2.
Resistance can also be negative in that we can resist a good thing. Resistance to change when change is necessary isn’t a good thing. Resisting the call to repent or apologize, which many politicians do in times of scandal, ends up being very harmful in the long run.
And then, of course, there’s the whole electrical definition of resistance. The word comes from Latin, no small surprise, which means to make a stand against or oppose.
When I think of the story of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism by John, resistance is a keyword. He resisted the temptation to buy into the worldly definition of success, fame and power. And a little later in both Matthew and Luke, in sections on prayer, we hear words that have been included in the prayer Jesus taught, “Lead us not into temptation.” Matthew goes further and says, “But deliver us from evil.” It’s not, “Help us resist temptation.” It’s not, “Take temptation away from us.” It’s, curiously, “Lead us not into temptation.” As if God might lead us into temptation?
This phrase of the prayer Jesus taught has caused a lot of consternation over the years. Some believe that the Hebrew Scriptures account of not falling into temptation during the time of Moses and being in the wilderness after Egypt was actually a test that God put before the people. Some think that Jesus echoed this thinking but added the prayer to ask God to not lead the people to this way of testing. This request is echoed later in Luke’s Gospel, during Jesus’ Passion, when they are all in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus prays that his followers do not enter into temptation; it was Jesus’ prayer that his friends not be tested.
Another way of thinking is that Jesus’s prayer is, actually, about not being led into temptation by anyone, ourselves included. This line of thinking is reflected in the ecumenical version of the prayer Jesus taught, “Save us from the time of trial.” This is a more intentional prayer to God to give us strength not to fall into temptation—whatever might tempt us! This is a prayer for resistance. Or, as Frederick Danker puts it in his commentary on Luke, “Humility is, therefore, becoming to disciples as they ask their heavenly Parent to preserve them from the consequences of their own self-confidence.” Indeed, preserve us from our over self-confidence!
Luke’s account of Jesus in the wilderness really is a prototypical story that we all face: on offer is a life of humility, service, love and compassion on the one hand and on the other, a life of power over, a life of luxury, a life of worldly success. In this story, we’re not really talking about resisting the temptation of eating chocolate or giving up bread and facing the temptation of fresh bread in bakeries or the smell that infuses a house when the bread is baking. We are talking about earth-shattering events that have an impact on us all. We are talking about choosing life and that which gives life. We are talking about resisting the definition of success and power defined by personal gain, greed and individualism. We are talking about resisting the definitions of the so-called good life that are experiencing an ascendency these days in many countries around the world. Political scandal is rife everywhere because there is this age-old battle between the desire for self-protection and protecting those who are narrowly defined as one’s group, and, on the other side, the desire to expansively see the large human family where how we are together in love and how we protect the vulnerable is paramount.
Jesus invites us to be people of this new KinDom, this new family of humanity. Jesus faced down the temptations to worldly power, success and glory and offered a new way that is all about transformative love and hope. But it is a way of humility. It is a way of service to others. It is a way of healing and wholeness that doesn’t come at the expense of another. It is a way of sharing resources, of not using more than our share. It is a way of thinking more broadly than just our own self-interest. It is a way of the Spirit. It is a way that chooses life and resists violent oppression. It is the hard way!
In almost every generation, there are a few amazing young people who challenge arrogant self-interest. The likes of Malala Yousafzai a few years ago, who was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, began advocating for education for girls at the age of 11. Anne Frank resisted the Nazis during WW2 before being killed. Louis Braille resisted the labels of being handicapped when he developed, at the age of 15, the system that would help blind people read. And we heard this morning from 15-year-old Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg addressing the international climate conference last December in Poland.
Resistance is not futile; on the contrary, it is what gives energy to creating a world of peace, hope and love. It is our spiritual tradition and it is the way of wholeness and the KinDom of God that Jesus embodied. Amen.
Go to https://www.manyvoices.org/about/