Tests and Temptations
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
You may have heard of the Marshmallow experiment. This experiment has been done since the 70s, and it was thought to measure the willpower of a child. The way the experiment works is a child is left alone in a room with a giant marshmallow and told that if they don’t eat it, they will receive two marshmallows when the adult comes back 15 minutes later.
A lot has been made of this study, equating the self-control of a child has to higher test scores, a lower BMI as an adult, and all sorts of other positive outcomes. While much of this is true, within the last decade some researchers have begun to question what this test measures. A researcher named Celeste Kidd conducted an experiment in a family shelter where children were experiencing homelessness. Often these children are facing many adverse conditions, hunger, unsafe environments, and unpredictable moments. When Celeste administered the Marshmallow test, immediately all of these children ate the marshmallow in front of them. But then she began to modify the experiment. She placed children in an art room and told them they would work on an art project. She gave some of them a reliable condition and some unreliable conditions. A friendly adult would meet the child in an art room, and tell the child they were going to do an art project together. The adult would excuse themselves to get some supplies. Those with the reliable condition, the adult returned with an armload of brand new crayons. For those children with an unreliable condition; the adult would return and apologize because there were no brand new crayons only old broken ones. After the crayons, the same adult administered the marshmallow test, and the results were pretty astounding. The preschoolers who had a reliable condition were able to wait on average four times longer than those who received the unreliable condition, and the majority were able to wait for the full 15 minutes.  One of the most significant determining factors in their successful completion of this challenge was trust if they could trust those around them, trust the friendly adult, and trust their environment. Their ability to trust those factors shaped their outcome.
As we begin our season of Lent, we read a familiar text on the temptation of Jesus. Jesus enters the desert for 40 days. Luke tells us Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit as he is about to be tested or tempted by the devil. This setup is meant to evoke our memories. Memories of the Hebrew people lost in the desert. It is intended to stimulate our memory of that classic story from Job of God and Satan, placing a bet to see if Job will remain faithful facing a sea of tragedy. Jesus enters the wilderness to face three trials. One of turning a stone into bread, the second worshiping the diabolical one in exchange for the earth, and the third to jump from the temple and display God’s favor. Facing each trail, Jesus responds with scripture and trust. One faithful reading of this passage is the idea that Jesus was tempted in three ways, Bread, Power, and Protection and that Jesus overcame these personal temptations. I am sure most of us have heard reflections on this before.
However, there is another interpretation that Diana Butler Bass offers us. Instead of three temptation this is really one temptation in three parts. Caesar at this point was the ruler of the known world, the Emperor of Rome. The Kingdoms of the Mediterranean are under him, and each of those inhabitants is required to worship Caesar as Lord and Savior.
The empire maintained control of their empire through two ways, through bread and protection. From about the year 20 C.E. to the sixth century, the empire supported a bread distribution to hundreds of thousands of people. This distribution of grain to poor helped to guarantee security and safety in the empire. The Roman armies were fearsome, conquering lands. They protected people. If you were ruled by Caesar you were generally secure, you had bread from the state and safety through the military.
Is this Jesus being temped again to be like Caesar? To replace one broken Roman system and replace it with a system headed by a good Jew like him. Would Jesus be a better Caesar? Wasn’t he called to announce the Kingdom of God on earth? What we see is Jesus is not tempted to replace Caesar, instead he goes forth from the wilderness, breaking bread with the poor, healing outcasts. Before his death, he tells the governor his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ power was seen through love, service, gratitude, and humility. 
I think this points to a temptation we all face, not the temptation to rule the world, but the temptation to rule our own world. The temptation to build our world only around ourselves. The temptation to live in an echo chamber and only have our own opinions perpetually reinforced. The temptation to not to listen to one another, to not hear from others’ experiences. The solution to these temptations is the same to go out from our wilderness and serve the world with love, gratitude, and humility.
In 2017 Max Hawkins was loving life. Max was going to work every day at Google in San Francisco. As he described it, every day he would wake up, have his coffee, and ride his bike to work. He would eat lunch at the Google cafeteria with 4 types of Kale. Then he would return home and hang out with friends. After a while, he realized everyone he was spending time with was living a similar life to him. This bothered him. So he did what app developers do and he wrote some software. The software looked at public invitations on the internet community billboards etc. and then randomly assigned one event for him to attend. The first time he did it, he showed up to an event where he was the only English fluent speaker. He began randomly attending pancake breakfasts, open houses, salsa dancing lessons, and he even started to knit. Then for Christmas, he decided not to go home. The app chose a place for him to have dinner. It was a small event with about 10 people. As he said he was totally freaked out when he rang the bell because it was a home. A woman answered the door named Karena, she asked whom he knew. He explained the app and what he was doing. Completely unfazed Karena let him. Max stayed for about 6 hours ending the evening by singing Christmas carols with a group of strangers.  For Max this changed the way he saw the world, it opened up the wilderness for him.