Looking into the Mirror of Temptation

A Sermon from Lent 1 – Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matt. 4:1-11 delivered By The Rev. Brandon Duke on March 5, 2017

In mirrors I see myself. But in mirrors made of glass and silver I never see the whole of myself. I see the me I want to see, and I ignore the rest. Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. They reveal an ugliness I’d rather deny…Avoid these mirrors of veracity! ~In Mirrors by Walter Wangerin

 In Chapter 12 of J. K. Rowling’s world famous children’s novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the protagonist, Harry, comes across The Mirror of Erised. The mirror revealed “the deepest, most desperate desire[s] of [the] heart…” [1] Harry’s desire allowed the mirror to reveal his mother and father in its reflection. Seeing his parents weighed heavily on his heart because they died tragic deaths leaving him orphaned at a very young age. Harry was mesmerized by the reflection of his deceased family who stood in front of him alive, if only by the power of the magical mirror. The power was addicting, but Harry eventually returned to reality, fetched his best friend, Ron, and instructed him to stand in front of the mirror thinking he would see Harry’s parents too. To Harry’s surprise, Ron did not see his parents. Instead, Ron got to see his own deepest, most desperate desires of the heart. The mirror reflected Ron as a popular boy in school and at home. In reality, Ron lived in the shadow of his older brothers. Although not totally forgotten like the orphaned Harry, Ron longed for more attention and recognition from just about everybody – including his own mother and father.

A scene or two later, we find Harry sitting in front of the magical mirror when all of a sudden his narcissistic gaze is interrupted by the school’s headmaster, Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore asked Harry if he had figured out the mirror’s purposes yet. Upon hearing Harry’s partial answer, Professor Dumbledore continued his lesson. He said, “…this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible…It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that”.[2] Towards the novel’s ending, Harry remembered Dumbledore’s advice, and instead of falling under the mirror’s enchantment again, used the mirror’s potential in order to make a decision that ultimately saved his life, and the lives of countless others.

In reality, stories involving mirrors and their variations are tales as old as time. Echo and Narcissus (in the water), Snow White and the Evil Queen (Mirror, mirror on the wall), Dorian Grey (in his self-portrait), Alice in Wonderland (through the looking glass), and in the Bible – The story of Adam and Eve, where the serpent acts as mirror, and the temptation of Christ, where Satan reflects a reality that is ultimately rejected by Jesus.

In the Genesis story, I find it extremely interesting when the serpent asked Eve about the tree in the middle of the garden because Eve seemed to reply with little or no insight. It was as if she had never thought about the instructions God had given her. Perhaps she was playing the role of good student trying to please the teacher? Regardless, the serpent became a substitute teacher for God, and tempted her to look again at the statement just spoken with more reflection. When she did this, she saw differently. “You will not die,” said the serpent, “Instead, your eyes will be opened” [emphasis mine].[3] It’s here where the scripture reads, “So [Eve] saw that the tree was good…it was a delight to the eyes.”[4] Getting back to our mirror metaphor, the serpent was revealing a desire that was deep inside her yet it had never been brought to the surface. When she looked into the mirror of the serpent she saw her deeply buried narcissistic desire – a desire that had the potential to separate her from God and others. She forgot about potential separation with her eyes fixated on the pleasing images of the fruit tree. She’s tricked. She’s fooled. She was given a half-truth. Adam and Eve then acted upon the temptation set up before them. The deed was done. What was in their hearts transferred to the mind. What the mind fixated on soon became action. Their world would never be the same.

When we turn to today’s Gospel a similar mirror is set up in front of our Lord.[5] Even though he was tempted in related ways as Adam and Eve, he remembered his relationship with God the Father. At Jesus’ baptism a chapter earlier, Jesus was given the title, Son of God, by his Father in Heaven.[6] In the desert, Satan takes this title and lays out three visions on how to live as Son of God. Christ ultimately rejected these three visions. Instead he revealed a more excellent way to live as both Son of God and Son of Man, vocations that call Jesus into a life fully lived and full of “compassion and solidarity with [a] needy [and] failed humanity”.[7] At first, the tempting vision of using his power as Son of God to transform a world that was hungry, a world whose spirituality was lacking, and a world whose politics were disordered were very powerful, almost utopian visions. History has shown us that utopian dreams can quickly become dystopian because they reflect a belief that some are called to stand over others instead of standing with.[8] “Jesus’ surrender to the Spirit [of God] allowed him to break through to the truth that his specialness as the Beloved Son [of God] gave him the freedom to take human suffering upon himself and to be the Servant of all”.[9]

Walter Wangerin once wrote, “In mirrors I see myself. But in mirrors made of glass and silver I never see the whole of myself. I see the me I want to see, and I ignore the rest.”[10] His opening line should give us pause in this season of Lent: In mirrors I see myself. He’s not talking about mirrors made of glass and silver, but of mirrors made of flesh and blood. Flesh and blood mirrors (I believe) are the best mirrors. These mirrors are our spouses, our children, our best friends and family members. These mirrors reveal parts of ourselves we’d rather ignore. We have complicated relationships with these mirrors, and at our best we pay attention to them. Sometimes, and when they reflect what we don’t wish to see, we yell at them, we ignore them, we turn away ashamed, or fearful, or anxious. At our worst we abuse them, assault them, and try and break them down, or tear them off the wall. We do this because we have forgotten something. We have forgotten that we are loved. We have forgotten that we are forgiven. We have forgotten that we (like our flesh and blood mirrors) are all children of God. It is only an illusion that we are separate. Instead, and if we are honest with ourselves, when we look into those flesh and blood mirrors what is reflected back is what needs to be healed within us. If we are brave enough to seek out healing within our hearts, we are then able to have compassion on others who are going through similar trials. Jesus taught and teaches us not to stand over, but to stand with. His ultimate act upon the cross was to not only live out this teaching, but to tangibly show us what love (in truth) looks like. Remember your own flesh and blood mirror (or mirrors) this Lent. Dust them off if you have to. Choose humility and be vulnerable and honest with them, and with what is reflected back at you. Then, ask God to heal what is revealed to you. Ask God to show you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.[11]

If the shoe is on the other foot, and you find yourself being the mirror for somebody else, before you react to the person in front of you, search your heart asking God to remind you of His patience, gentleness, and compassion towards you so that you may deliver a similar compassion to the other.

Harry Potter learned that The Mirror of Erised revealed, the deepest, most desperate desire[s] of [the] heart. This Lent, take your own desires give them to God asking that they become not our own selfish desires, but the desires that are most holy, that is, the desires of God.

Let us pray,

Spirit of Jesus, give us the courage to take our hearts and look it in the face! It is absurd to be surprised to see there cravings to be special, to be invulnerable, to dominate. Only if you deepen our awareness of your indwelling and the priceless gift of intimacy with the Father which is already ours can these desires give way to the truth that we belong to others and can serve and embrace them. Amen.[12]

[1]                 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Scholastic Press, 1997, pg. 213.

[2]                 Ibid., 213-14

[3]                 Gen. 3:4

[4]                 Gen. 3:5

[5]                 Matt. 4:1-11

[6]                 Matt. 3:17

[7]                 Martin L. Smith, “The Wind in the Wilderness” from A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent, Church Publishing, New York, pg. 11.

[8]                 Ibid., 13

[9]                 Ibid., 13-14

[10]               Walter Wangerin, “In Mirrors,” from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Plough Publishing, Walden, NY, 2003, pg. 11.

[11]               The Serenity Prayer from 12-Step Programs

[12]               Martin Smith, 14.


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