For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
One of my favorite Lenten hymns is "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley," an American spiritual which rose out of poor rural white communities in the South. The hymn portrays the true humanity of Jesus Christ in enduring the trials and temptations of life just as do all other humans. When singing the hymn, I always feel especially close to God, thinking that Jesus understands all too well how challenging life can sometimes be.
A New Testament allusion to the hymn may be the Hebrews passage above. Jesus' temptations in the wilderness were not new, not unique to him. They were as old as the Garden of Eden, where the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the promise to be like God. They are as ordinary as the temptations you and I encounter every day.
We may not see how Jesus' temptations relate to ours, but I believe they do. In his book on Christian leadership, In the Name of Jesus, the late Henri Nouwen wrote about "the temptation to be spectacular," and churches and individual Christians fall prey as often and as easily as anyone.
Nouwen's antidote for this temptation may be hard for us to swallow - confession and forgiveness. It means that we need to admit to God and one other person how we have failed, how life has broken us, how we are not so fine after all. When we confess to God and another person, we can accept forgiveness, which means we are loved by God, no matter what, which means we can be fully human, like Jesus.
The text of the hymn moves on to make these experiences personal by saying in stanza 2, "We must walk this lonesome valley." We can believe Jesus knows our lonesome valley, maybe even better than we ever realized. He walked it long before we did, all the way to the cross, and came out the other side, up from the grave. Because he did, we can live with confidence that nothing in life and in death can separate us from the one who knows us through and through, and loves us still and all. He did it all to save us and strengthen us, so we can finish the song, "You must go and stand your trial, you have to stand it by yourself, O, nobody else can stand it for you, you have to stand it by yourself."
Yet, since Jesus walked this lonesome valley, we are never alone when we face our trials. He stands alongside of us, stands in our place, and supports us every step of the way.
Prayer for Today
Lord, we offer thanksgiving this day and every day that we never journey alone. Amen.