Lent 1—Year A, March 5, 2017
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11
As the story goes, Adam and Eve are living in a paradise with every need met. They are not tempted by the terrifying voice of a demon to anger or violence; or passion or greed, in the normal sense. They aren’t tempted to hate God or each other or creation. Rather, they are seduced by a reasonable voice offering enticing possibilities: They see that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is beautiful to look at and promises to enhance their diet and their pleasure. Further, this fruit is, they are told, a brain food that will enhance their wisdom and their power.
They are not being tempted to eat a bunch of Twinkies and Ho-Ho’s that will clog their veins and cloud their minds. Nor are they a starving couple tempted to steal a loaf of bread for their children.
They are being seduced by the possibility to enhance an already pretty great life. For those of us in living in the land of plenty isn’t this how temptations come to us? Just a tweak, just one more small thing added to my life and everything will be perfect.
Unfortunately, in order for Adam and Eve to add this small tweak to their lives, a piece of fruit, they must move from a life of trusting obedience in Creator God to a life of trusting obedience to the thoughts in their heads. They move from a living in sync with life as it is, and undertake a self-improvement project that puts them out of sync with God, creation, and their own souls.
It looks so good—it is going to make me wise and beautiful—it is going to be a really smart move, like buying Apple’s initial public offering (IPO) in December 1980 for $22 a share. But it turns out we were investing instead in a Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
And once they realize they’ve lost everything they slip into a profound anxiety that is with us to this day. They had no anxiety when they were living with the grain of the universe, in sync with God and their vocation to take care of the garden, referring all questions above their pay grade to their creator, questions, say about who is in and who is out.
But now it’s anxiety all the time: and as we know when we are anxious most of our remedies to calm ourselves end up making us more anxious. Retail therapy, self-medication, slacking off or working overtime cannot replace that which is missing in the center of our being—the connection with the presence and person of our Creator God, who loves and cares for us.
It is interesting that the Old Testament never mentions this story again. Never mentions the sin of Adam and Eve. Never calls what they did “the Fall” which Paul, and Augustine, and Martin Luther would do, making this the foundation story of our alienation from God, neighbor, and self.
Yet, the rest of the Old Testament does tell story after story about how Israel, the beloved and chosen of God, just like Adam and Eve, turn away from the covenant God. Their creator calls them to practice justice toward the widow, the orphan, and the stranger and instead they ignore the suffering of others in order to have the bright shiny objects of pleasure, popularity, and power to enhance their lives.
It all makes so much sense but they fail to realize the connection between choices and futures. When we were teenagers we thought we could avoid this connection, but we found when you choose not to read the textbook, or memorize Spanish vocabulary and Geometry proofs, then you are guaranteeing a future of ignorance, low grades, and reduced futures for college and a job. We tell this to our kids, often while not noticing that we too are choosing things that will reduce our future, like choosing not to care about an economic system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, thereby creating a future in which the poor may soon choose to turn against us.
The prophets of Israel were given the same message by YHWH, that “choices produce futures”: (See Walter Brueggemann The Practice of Prophet Imagination)
So the Prophet Micah in the 8th century before Christ says:
Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
10 who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
“Surely the Lord is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:9-12
Israel is chosen by God to be a light to the nations, to model for other nations how to follow God and choose covenant faithfulness, but instead they chose a world that enhances the rich and powerful and hurts the poor and powerless.
So, in the fullness of time, God comes as Jesus of Nazareth, not to punish, but to save. God in Jesus enters our brokenness as one of us, in order to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He enters the dirty sin-filled waters of the Jordan as our representative, as Israel’s representative, and God says, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
So far so good, but his work is only beginning as the Spirit drives him into the wilderness to confront our ancient enemy, the Satan, the Accuser, who led the first couple to ruin.
The Accuser doesn’t tempt Jesus with lust and greed, or anger and violence. No, once again he comes with reasonable words that promise to make Jesus’ life and his vocation better and easier.
Satan says follow my reasonable advice: it makes perfect sense to feed yourself after a 40 day fast; it makes perfect sense to charm the masses in order to gain their support; it makes perfect sense to use overwhelming force to control and save the world.
But Jesus chooses not to do anything that pulls him away from his relationship with the Father. He chooses to stay hungry a while longer; he chooses to please God not people; and he chooses not to be in control and to find his power in the weakness of the cross.
Jesus comes to represent Israel and to represent the human race, so that as God chooses him and he chooses God, a new future for us all is created.
After the temptation in the wilderness Jesus begins his Kingdom of God project of restoring covenant faithfulness and justice in God’s way, not our way. He faces people who are deeply anxious because they who do not believe God really cares for them. Jesus calls them to take the risk of trusting God instead of the anxious autonomous self and anxious nation that promises to protect them.
Jesus says follow me and I will make you fishers of people.
Jesus has chosen each of us to follow him. He knows we are often pulled off the way by the next bright shiny object promising pleasure, popularity, or the power to make my little world a little better for me. Jesus chooses us to share his vocation to bring justice to the weak and the wounded and all those for whom the system doesn’t work.
Jesus chooses us to join him in his reconciliation project bringing together those on the inside and those on the outside, those on the top and those on the bottom.
He chooses us to be his disciples and on that path we are given a new future of peace instead of anxiety, a future of service instead of self-centeredness, a future of and relationship instead of control; a future in the New Creation, where everything isn’t perfect for me, but everything is pretty great for us.