Well, that was a waste of time. Sorry, still grumbling about a meeting I had to attend. If I were to count up all the times in my life where I felt like I was mired in futility, a significant proportion of them involve meetings that should have been emails. Just sayin.’ I had half a mind to wander out during the break.
Ever wonder where such a phrase came from? “I have half a mind to . . .” I had half a mind to look it up, but I didn’t. Okay, I did, but I didn’t find anything exciting. “Half a mind” means an inclination but not a decision, some say. “Initial thoughts but no action,” others argue. I have half a mind to ignore them all.
There is something unsatisfying about having half a mind. It is like the song that gets stuck in your head and won’t go away. It’s an annoyance that keeps nagging. It is like a potential that can’t be realized. It is like a temptation.
We are on the threshold of the season of Lent – an opportune time to talk about temptation. We are at the very beginning where we stop and think, “Do we really want to do this or not?” And if we do, what does that mean for our lives for the next six weeks? Can we still function in normal society even though we’ve gotten this Lent journey thing going? What if someone notices, can we go underground for a while in our faith, keep it hidden away? But if we don’t get on board, how do we avoid it, since everyone is running fish specials, which seems kind of weird to me since no mention is ever made of Lent and sacrifice, so what is the point? I had half a mind to skip the whole thing this year and see if anyone would notice.
Not really. I love the season of Lent. I love the opportunity it provides us each year to stop and examine just how much we’ve been doing with half a mind. At least, I think that is a part of it.
The season gets underway this first Sunday with a traditional reading from one of the gospels. This year, it is Luke’s turn. Luke 4:1-13. The temptation is in the wilderness – a great starting place, don’t you think? We get a glimpse into the nature of evil. We understand the person of Jesus and the nature of Christ, and we get a taste of the power of temptation. That is pretty good for thirteen verses.
But I’m not sure a theological treatise is what we need as we begin this journey. Lent is about self-examination, about confession and facing one’s mortality – “dust you are to dust you shall return” is what we hear as the ashes are applied to our foreheads. We are marked with mortality for this Lenten journey, and that is sobering enough for anyone. But Lent is about more than a simple reminder of the temporary nature of our human condition. It is an invitation to reorder that existence, temporary or eternal.
We begin our journey with Christ in the wilderness because that is where we live. The Spirit led him out (and Mark’s version said the Spirit drove him out) so that he could experience what we experience. He was, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “tempted in every way as we are.” He was out there hungry and hurting because we are hungry and hurting. And he was tempted by the thought of shortcuts because we are tempted by that very thing.
When the Adversary says, “worship me, it will all be yours,” it was an offer of a shortcut. Those kingdoms are Jesus’, aren’t they? We call him the king of kings! So, the offer must be to claim them without suffering, without dying. Take a shortcut. And we have half a mind to take it.
One of the things about temptations as they are presented in the gospels is that they aren’t necessarily bad things. Jesus was asked to feed a hunger, which was something he did later on with power, seemingly conjuring bread from stones to feed thousands. A bad thing? Jesus was given a travelogue of exotic locales and promised that he could be Lord over it all, which was something he offered later when he described being lifted up to draw all people to him. A bad thing? Jesus was asked to put his life in God’s hands and trust that God would hold him up, would raise him up, which is something he did later when he climbed onto the high place on Golgotha and cast himself into the hands of the Father and trusted despite his fears. Surely not a bad thing.
We translate temptation into the tug we feel to have another donut, or the inclination to sleep in instead of going to that meeting we’re supposed to attend, or to follow desires we ought not follow. And certainly, those things are a part of what we wrestle with on a daily basis. But even doing good for the wrong reasons can be a part of the trap we find ourselves in. Wrong priorities can lead us astray. Halfhearted or half-minded living is the devil’s playground—to reinterpret an old cliche.
This is what Jesus teaches us with his experience in the desert: half a mind is not enough. Jesus invites us to live fully engaged, to think through the implications of our actions as well as our intentions. He encourages us to meet the challenges of this world wrapped in the Word, confident in our relationship with God, certain in the presence of the Spirit with us always.
Jesus never did anything with half a mind, and he invites us to live the same way. The problem is, we have trouble with that. We seem to live in half minds all the time. We are less certain, less focused, less directed than he was. So, how do we compensate? By doing the math. Half a mind plus half a mind equals a whole mind. Right? We need help: that seems to be the obvious solution to our half a mind to wander off the path. Find someone who can help keep us on track. Find someone who will help us think about the choices we make. Find someone who will fill us out. Better yet, find a group of someones – a community of faith that will help make sure we think with a full mind.
This may appear to be a non-sequitur: What are you singing this Lent? Lent always seems to be a time to turn to the spirituals, to music in a minor key. We need to sing those songs that speak of hope in the midst of suffering. One constant about this music is that it was powerfully corporate. Even when there was one singer, the purpose behind the music was to lift the hearts of the whole body. So, what are you singing this Lent, and can you find a way to engage in a communal experience? You’ll find more than half a mind worth.
The text ends with an ominous note that the Adversary went away until an opportune time. We could spend some time speculating on when that opportune time might have been for Jesus. But it might be better for us to realize that opportune times come all too often in our lives. Too often, we are living a half-a-mind kind of existence, even when we know better. And then we discover opportune times for temptation, for losing our way, for surrendering our will come when we least expect it.