February 26, 2023
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11
Our readings today are rich with theology about sin. It is Lent, after all. In Genesis we have the story of Adam & Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is what is known as the original sin. It is both the sin of going against God’s commandments and of attempting to become like God. The serpent says to the woman, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” People often refer to the tree as simply “the tree of knowledge,” but that is not what it is. It is the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.
Eating from the tree represents a loss of innocence. From this time forward, humanity is presented with the choice between doing what is right and doing what is wrong. We have to make such choices daily, though over time our ability to know what is the right choice has become obscured by all the complexities that exist in our lives. Like so many stories, this passage oversimplifies the challenges we face in the decisions we must make. Sometimes, we must choose the lesser of two evils. What may have begun as a simple choice between good and evil in the Garden of Eden is no longer so simple. Evil has permeated our world. The story of Adam and Eve defying God and eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a story that explains how God’s creation took a wrong turn. Humanity was created in the image of God, but we have turned against God and one another – clearly, we are not living in the Garden of Eden.
Fast forward, then to Jesus. Jesus, himself, is tempted. In today’s gospel we hear of him being led up by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. Then, he is tempted by the devil. Not only are the 40 days and 40 nights reminiscent of Moses’ time on Mount Sinai with God, the time Jesus spends in the wilderness is reminiscent of the 40 years the people of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land.
Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast. Fasting is a time for prayer, reflection, and preparation. Jesus is preparing for his public ministry and this preparation requires him to reject the temptations of serving himself alone by making the stones turn into loaves of bread, of testing God and his own power by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple, and of taking control over all the kingdoms of the world. This story teaches us that Jesus does not come to take away our ability to choose; he comes to teach us how to choose life. We choose life when we choose to have a relationship with him AND when we choose to care for one another. We have the ability to decide whether or not to enter into these relationships, and that makes these relationships special.
Our lesson from Romans is also one that reflects a particular theology concerning sin and our forgiveness of sin. Theologians speak of Adam being the first man, and his sin in the garden is what brought death into our world. Only Jesus, who lives without sin, could defeat death for us. Thus, his death and resurrection free humanity from the sentence of death that came to us as a result of Adam’s sin. In Romans we read that this new freedom is a gift of grace from Jesus. His righteousness makes us righteous.
The theology expressed here is one of justification by grace. Our sins are forgiven by grace alone. We have done nothing to deserve our forgiveness. We deserve to be punished for what we have done and Jesus pays the price for our sins. This is a theology that can easily be taken too far, in my opinion, by suggesting that someone had to atone for our sins, so Jesus was nailed to the cross – when it should have been us. It suggests that God requires someone to be punished, so Jesus dies for us.
Jesus did die on the cross because of our sins, but it does not mean he died to appease God. Afterall, Jesus is one with God. God comes to us in the person of Christ to show us the way to life is one of self-sacrifice and love for others. In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted to take control of our lives – to rule over us and all the kingdoms of the world, but he did not give into that temptation. Jesus chooses instead to suffer as we suffer, to die as we will die, so that he might teach us by his resurrection that his way is the way that leads to true life. His way of love is where we will find the source of all life.
On Wednesday I invited you to the observance of a Holy Lent. You need not fast to do so, though some people do find it helpful to fast or give something up for Lent. What makes Lent holy is when we spend time reflecting on our lives and on God’s call to service. Time spent in reflection and prayer is time spent with God preparing ourselves to answer God’s call to service. What is God calling us to do – and how can we use our own life experiences to help others? Whatever we have experienced, whatever we have or have not done, our lives have brought us to where we are today.
Remembering our own sins can help us be less quick to judge others. Remembering our own painful experiences can help us be more empathetic and supportive of others who face the same challenges we have faced – and do face. So I invite you to reflect upon your life without judgement. Accept the forgiveness Jesus offers and listen for God’s call. How is God calling you to use your life to bring life to others?
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give thanks to you for bringing us to where we are today. Help us to feel your presence and turn to you for guidance in the decisions we make each day. We offer our prayers in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.