By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
1 Lent – March 13, 2011
Read: Genesis 2:1517, 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11
And so we have begun the season of Lent and our first Sunday in Lent begins with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted three times by the devil . Taken together, the three rejected temptations not only demonstrate that Jesus is righteous according to the law but also prove his identity as God’s divine and beloved son.
Let’s take a closer look at those temptations. Satan immediately gets to the core question of Jesus’ identity, calling into question his relationship with God by beginning with the provocative, “If you are the Son of God….” This relationship, announced just verses earlier at his baptism, is now confirmed through Jesus’ unwavering trust in God.
Individually, each temptation invites Jesus to turn away from trust in God in a different way. In the first, the devil invites Jesus to prove his sonship through a display of power; that is, by establishing his validity and worth through his own abilities. In the second, the temptation is to test God’s fidelity. In the third — more an out-and-out bribe than temptation — Jesus is promised all the power and glory the earth can offer if he will give his allegiance and devotion to the Tempter. In each case, Jesus rejects the temptation and lodges his identity, future, and fortunes on God’s character and trustworthiness.
Adam and Eve — note that while Eve is the one who speaks, both are present throughout the scene (Genesis 3:6) — are similarly invited to mistrust God. Interestingly, the serpent doesn’t actually lie to Adam and Eve — they do not die; they do become more like God as God acknowledges. Rather, the serpent calls into question God’s trustworthiness by suggesting that there is more to the story than God let on. In this way the serpent sows the seeds of mistrust, inviting Adam and Eve to fulfill the deep want and need that is at the core of being human not through their relationship with God but by seizing the fruit that is in front of them. It is the temptation to be self-sufficient, to establish their identity on their own, that seduces the first humans.
Identity is again the focus of the Tempter in the scene of Jesus’ temptation. “If you are the Son of God,” Satan begins. In other words, “How do you know you are God’s Son?” Hence the core of the temptation: “Wouldn’t it be better to know for certain? Turn stone to bread, jump from the Temple, worship me…and you will never know doubt again. You will know. You will be sufficient on your own.” The temptation is the same, but Jesus responds by refusing to establish his own worth and identity on his own terms but instead remains dependent on God. Jesus knows who he is, that is, by remembering whose he is.
There is a large spider that lives along the banks of the Amazon River. To attract insects, the spider has the ability to spread itself out and to look exactly like the blossom of a beautiful flower. Bees and other insects land on it, expecting to find pollen. Instead, they find a sharp sting — and then they die.
The devil is like that. He gilds his temptations — wraps them in beautiful paper — binds them with lovely ribbons — but when we open them, we find that they have a poison sting.
The temptations that come to you this week won’t be big ones. The devil won’t tempt you to stick up a Wawa. He will tempt you to turn stones into bread when he tells you to do so. He will tempt you to do a good deed using some sort of underhanded method. He will urge you to cut corners. He will tell you that it’s OK to say something nasty to someone you don’t like. He will dress up the temptation like a beautiful flower — but it will have a sharp sting at its center. Stay alert! Pray for guidance. Don’t unwrap the beautiful package.
God, who created us, continues to set before us gifts. And each of us faces the dilemma of how to find the proper balance. You see, each and every one of us faces the same issues that Adam and Eve struggled with in the Garden.
This is a story that continues to be true. It’s true for you and it’s true for me. We each seek to know the difference between good and evil. We each seek to gain more knowledge so we can better control our world.
And we forget who gave these gifts in the first place. We forget that God gave us a purpose. We forget that God gave us freedom. We forget that God set boundaries on life. We forget that we can only understand them in the context of community.
You see, the problem isn’t that we have the knowledge of good and evil. The problem is that we also forget that this knowledge comes from God as well. And because we don’t know the source of this knowledge, we don’t know what to do with that knowledge.
We think it’s for our own benefit, but the truth is that knowing the difference between good and evil is to be used for the sake of community. It’s for the sake of all living creatures in the garden.
It isn’t necessary for our vocation to know the difference. It isn’t necessary for us to experience freedom or to acknowledge life’s limitations. What is necessary is for us to acknowledge the source of life, the source of our gifts, the God who created us.
Before Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they only knew good. They only knew how to please God. They only knew how to serve God. Their focus was on God and the community that God had created. After eating the fruit, their innocence was gone. They began to see the alternative to serving God. They became self-focused.
When God went looking for Adam, he used the word “I” for the first time. He became the center of his own world. And God, the true center of creation, was set aside.
When we read about proposed legislation, for instance, we begin with the question, “How will this affect me?” We almost always begin the discussion from this self-centered perspective. As long as we are the center of our own concerns, we will find life to be difficult. Life will be filled with anxiety. We will find ourselves hiding — from God, from each other, from ourselves. Only when we find a way to reclaim and recreate the intended relationship with God, do we find a sense of joy in life, a sense of satisfaction, a sense of meaning and purpose.
And that relationship is possible.
Might it be that a part of being human is being aware that we are insufficient, that we are not complete in and of ourselves, that lack is a permanent part of our condition? To be human, in other words, is to be aware that we carry inside ourselves a hole, an emptiness that we will always be restless to fill. Adam and Eve behold the fruit and conclude in a heartbeat that their hole is shaped just like that fruit. Yet after they eat, the emptiness remains. Today we might imagine that hole to be shaped just like a new car, or computer, or better house, or the perfect spouse.
But after laboring and sacrificing and obtaining these things, the emptiness remains. Blaise Pascal once described this essential condition of humanity as having a “God-shaped hole,” and this is what Jesus demonstrates. There is no filling of that gap, no permanent erasing that hole, except in and through our relationship with God. Or, as Augustine said, we humans are always restless until we rest in God.
Yet that, also, isn’t quite the full picture. To be Christian is not to have that hole, that need, erased once and for all. Rather, to be human is to accept that we are, finally, created for relationship with God and with each other. Perhaps the goal of the life of faith isn’t to escape limitation but to discover God amidst our needs and learn, with Paul, that God’s grace is sufficient for us.
Perhaps faith doesn’t do away with the hardships that are part and parcel of this life, but instead gives us the courage to stand amid them, not simply surviving but actually flourishing in and through Jesus, the one who was tempted as we are and therefore knows our struggles first hand. This same Jesus now invites us to find both hope and courage in the God who named not only him, but all of us, beloved children so that we, also, might discover who we are by recalling whose we are. The ashes on Ash Wednesday remind us that we are God’s property. We are God’s beloved children. God is inviting us into a deeper relationship with him. Will we accept? Amen.
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