I heard an interview back before the holidays in which the person being featured was asked about his childhood. As he shared about growing up, he mentioned his father who was a well known mechanic and who was in much demand. He said that people always wanted their cars fixed right away. It all led his father to develop a saying that he repeatedly offered as a response to the impatience of his customers. He would say, “do you want it done now or do you want it done right?”
The point of the statement is painfully obvious. His father was clear that he could get their cars up and running quickly but that might not necessarily mean that all of the kinks had been worked out or that they would be ready to run at peak levels. Or, he could take his time, go over everything with a fine toothed comb and make sure that the car was in tip top shape before handing over the keys. If he delivered this type of work, it would take time. Again the question, “do you want it done now or do you want it done right?”
The fella who was the focus of the interview went on to say that he had found this to be a pretty good mantra for life in general – to do things the quickest way is not necessarily to do them the best way. I want to suggest this morning that this is also a very valuable way of thinking about the life of faith. Do we want a faith that is always focused on doing things as quick and as easily as possible or do we want a faith where the focus is more on ensuring that things happen in the best way possible?
The story of Christ’s temptation as told in three of the four gospels speaks to this tug of war that we all deal with to handle the affairs of our lives as quickly and easily as possible. Interestingly, the three synoptic gospels get at this danger of quick fixes in two different ways. On the one hand, there is the version of Matthew and Luke and then there is the way that Mark, our text for today, addresses the same issue by telling the identical story in quite a different way.
In Matthew and Luke, much of the focus is on the three temptations themselves – to turn stones into bread, to bow down to Satan, to perform a miracle. A common thread in each is that the temptations offer Jesus a quick and easy way out. Jesus is tempted to snap his finger and have something to eat, to bow down to evil and instantaneously have all of the world’s power and to perform a miracle by throwing himself off of the temple while immediately gaining the world’s trust and belief that he is indeed God in the flesh. All are quick solutions to challenging situations. Yet, in each case, part of Jesus’ resistance is a way of saying that the easy way certainly is not necessarily the best way.
Mark gets at this same idea of the dangers of the quick and easy life while never mentioning the three specific temptations at all. Instead, Mark emphasizes the location where the temptations take place and the length of Jesus’ stay there.
According to Mark, the location is a wilderness or desert thus implying a desolate, unhurried place where people often find themselves during periods of wrestling, doubt, aloneness and reflection. Wilderness and desert times in life rarely refer to times of hustle and bustle or rapid pace. Wilderness places are rarely quickly entered into and rapidly exited from.
Also according to Mark, Jesus’ time in the wilderness is a period of 40 days. Now of course, in Biblical times, the number 40 is also symbolic meaning a completed period of time or until things have run their due course. Whether Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days exactly or not doesn’t really matter. Either way, the point is made. The implied idea is a long period where life is approached carefully, reflectively and in a refining way. It is not the picture of a time that one tries to get through as quickly as possible.
Further adding to Mark’s unique description are two other words. First, Mark says this was a place where the “wild animals” and the “angels” could be found too (vs. 13). This is to say that it was a untamed, dangerous place and yet even here Jesus is not alone. God’s messengers are at his side.
This is a good word for us to hear in modern America and in modern American spirituality. Again, our world is about speed, quickness and ease. One could say that ours is a microwave society. In many ways, we could also say that as a result we have developed a microwave spirituality.
Microwave cooking rarely produces the best food, but, microwaves often do provide the quickest and the easiest way to have something hot to eat. Who wants to cook something on the grill for 8 or 10 hours low and slow or slave in the kitchen all afternoon when we can simply grab an entree out of the fridge or the freezer, pop it into the microwave and ten minutes later have something that will satisfy our hunger?
Yet, when we experience a home cooked meal lovingly prepared that is the result of lots of mixing, simmering or baking, or, when we enjoy a pulled pork barbecue sandwich made from a piece of meat that has cooked all day from before the sun came up in the morning until late in the afternoon, there is no comparison between the two. A microwaved meal might get us through our hunger pains but a home cooked meal prepared by a great cook is far more than an act of having our physical needs met.
Again, the question that we started with today. Do we want it done now or do we want it done right?
What are the spiritual implications here? Let me mention two thoughts very quickly. First, in a world fixated on now, now, now, we should be wary of a spirituality that offers quick and easy approaches to almost anything. The temptation story reminds us of this truth. Most of life’s problems can’t be solved over night. You can’t learn to pray in an afternoon. Learning to follow Jesus is not possible on one hour a month. There are very few major life issues that can be easily or quickly fixed. The life of faith is a slow dance. It is a life long pursuit. It takes time and lots of it. It is full of desert places and moments where we may feel like nothing is happening but where we must trust that slowly but surely God is at work in our being, souls and in our midst.
Second, in a world that always wants the easiest solution, the temptation story reminds us that the best things are often the hardest things. Jesus’ time in the wilderness wasn’t a wasted time. These forty days of intensive prayer, wrestling with the devil and aloneness, were essential preparation for what was ahead. Jesus was going to be continuously challenged to take short cuts, he was going to have to regularly depend on prayer and he was going to feel alone and in desert places even when he was surrounded by others. The lessons of the wilderness were preparation for what life was going to bring his way regularly over the three years of his public ministry. This was time to get his arms around things, to firm up his resolve and to prepare as best he could. There are good reminders here for us. So often we convince ourselves that the harder things are or the longer they take the more likely it is that we are on the wrong path or that we have made a mistake. Truthfully though, in life and in faith, often times hard work, longevity and patience are simply what is required even if it is not what we want.
On Valentine’s Day, CBS Sunday Morning produced a piece about the growing popularity of lab grown diamonds which soon may very well make up the vast majority of stones used in the production of diamond jewelry. Lab grown diamonds have a lot going for them. They can be made in ten weeks or less in a clean, controlled environment. Further, they are very affordable making even a one carat stone accessible to almost anyone. There is just one problem. Even though they look virtually identical, in the end one has to admit that they are not the real thing. Amen. (How 21st Century Diamonds Are Born, CBS Sunday Morning, February 14, 2021)