It is the Cup of the New Covenant

The cup of the new covenant is what Jesus called it at the Last Supper. Yet when we hear these words, we must also remember that this covenant is ratified for all creation in the shedding of the Precious Blood, but for each of us individually, we enter this new covenant in the waters of baptism.

This new covenant, Jeremiah tells us, is written on our hearts, and Jesus witnesses to this new covenant first by his own experience of baptism. So when we share the cup of the new covenant, we are in effect renewing that covenant which we entered into in the waters of baptism.

The Baptism of the Lord is always celebrated in early January, and the Temptations are recalled on the First Sunday of Lent. Yet is all of the Synoptic Gospels, the two events are intimately related. Jesus goes to the Jordan to hear the preaching of John. He joins crowds from throughout Israel to listen to this flamboyant preacher, and like so many of John’s listeners, Jesus is moved to be baptized. Yet unlike anyone else who was baptized by John, Jesus sees the heavens opening, the Spirit descending upon him like a bird flying down from above, and hears a voice from heaven calling out, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

No wonder he had to take some time alone. Nothing like this had happened to him before.

He had been the son of the carpenter, a carpenter himself. He had worked no wonders, had no disciples, and proclaimed no message. He had simply done what most men of his age did, until that day when the skies were opened and the voice from heaven called out. He had to spend some time alone, trying to figure out what all of this meant. He couldn’t just go back to Nazareth as if nothing had happened. Something had happened. A new chapter in his life was beginning. Nothing would ever be the same.

No wonder he was tempted in the desert. God had called him the beloved Son, with whom God was well pleased. But why was God well pleased with him? What had he ever done to deserve such a greeting?

If I were Jesus, I might have been tempted to go home and forget the whole thing. I might have been tempted to think it was all an illusion. I might have wondered, why me? I might have recalled what often happened to those who had been called by God in the past I might have remembered how they were treated by the very people they had been sent to help.

I might have wished, like so many prophets before me, that God would call someone else. I might have tried to come up with an excuse to reject the call, to go back to the comfortable life I had been living. That’s just me.

Matthew and Luke go into more details about the temptations Jesus faced. They say that after forty days of fasting, he was hungry, and he was tempted to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. He was tempted to use the powers God had given him for his own benefit, but somehow during his time in the desert he realized that God had given him special powers, not for his own sake, but for the sake of others. He would one day use those powers to feed crowds of thousands, to heal the sick and raise the dead to new life. But he would never use his power for his own benefit.

While I suspect that like me, none of you has ever been tempted to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. But I also suspect that like me, you have been tempted to use the blessings God has given you for your own benefit.

Matthew and Luke go on to say that Jesus was tempted to throw himself off the parapet of the Temple. The devil reminded him that nothing terrible would happen, after all God had promised that his angels would look after him.

It took a long time for me to figure out what this temptation was really all about. Then I realized that I had been tempted, like Jesus, to make a spectacle of myself, showing off so that others would think more highly of me.

The parapet of the Temple is near the main staircase to the Temple and there would certainly be a crowd there, there almost always was. If Jesus were to throw himself off the parapet of the Temple and land unhurt, the crowds would most certainly come rushing to see him, but then it would have been all about him instead of about the God and Father of us all who sent him. The messenger might become   more important than the message. Jesus would have been a showoff, seeking only the crowd’s attention for himself rather than for the reign of God which he was being called to proclaim.

The last temptation described by Matthew and Luke was the temptation to worship the devil. The devil knows about the Kingdom of God which Jesus has come to establish, he even seems to know that it won’t be easy, that it will in fact be extremely difficult. So he tempts Jesus to establish his own kingdom by taking the easy way.

And, haven’t we all be tempted to do that, to find a way that isn’t so painful, so labor intensive, so full of risks and the possibility that not only with things not work out the way we had hoped, but that they might end up with ridicule, defeat, and rejection, even from the people we most care about? “One simple bow, here and now, and you get to avoid all the pain and suffering, and you still end up with a kingdom of your own!” the devil is saying.

The cup of the new covenant reminds us to reject these temptations, precisely because we know what the new covenant really calls us to, to the Kingdom of God, not to our own kingdoms, but to God’s Kingdom, where the peace will not be an illusion created by Satan, but the real peace that comes from God alone.

So let us reject Satan’s temptations, and let us remember, that in the waters of baptism and in the cup of the new covenant, we are all the beloved sons and daughters of God, and that though we do not deserve it, God is always well pleased with us.