Genesis 2&3, Matthew 4
March 13, 2011
The story of the Temptation of Jesus in the desert is the classic story used at the start off the season of Lent. But, it’s only the second most famous temptation story in the Bible. The story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit gets a lot more press. Adam and Eve, of course, surrendered to temptation, Jesus didn’t. We know the devastating consequences of Adam and Eve’s yielding to temptation. Sin and death enter the world. And theologians and preachers have carried to ball of original sin way too far.
We don’t stop enough to think, though, how much more devastating it would have been if Jesus had failed his test, too. However humanity got into the predicament it’s in, whether you blame it on original sin or not, Jesus showed us the way out. That, to me, is way more important than assigning blame, especially when, as is often said, there is plenty of blame to go around.
I think it’s good to look at these temptation stories together because they seem to be both getting at the same thing. At the heart of both the temptation offered to Adam and Eve, and those offered to Jesus, is the temptation to mistrust God.
The talking serpent tells Adam and Eve that there is something God is not telling them. “Is this the God you really want to trust? What’s with that tree thing? Everything in the garden is yours to enjoy except that luscious fruit hanging from that gorgeous tree? What’s up with that? God knows you’re not going to die if you eat that fruit. Sure, God has given you a lot, but there’s something God wants that you’re not supposed to have. So go ahead. Don’t settle for anything less than the whole loaf.”
The temptation, or one of the temptations, anyway, is to be self-sufficient, for Adam and Eve to not find their identity in being made in God’s image, and trusting all that means, but finding an identity that doesn’t depend on God.
It turns out that the same temptations about trusting God and identity are at play when Jesus was tempted. “So you think you are the Son of God, that God’s got something special for you to do? You are putting a lot on the line here. Don’t you want to be sure? How about a little trick? If you are who God says you are you should be able to turn these stones into bread. How hard can that be for the Son of God? And besides think about how many people you could feed? Like everybody.
“You won’t go for that? You are a tough one. But how tough? You have all these claims about what God wants for this world. You and a hundred other would be messiahs running around. Why would people believe you? They all say God has sent them. But you could show them. How about a little swan dive off the temple. If you really are the Son of God won’t the angels lower you gently to the ground? That should get you quite a following. And it’s right in those priest’s backyard. You know they are going after you, and that Rome will help them. You think God will really deal with them? A pre-emptive strike will make things a whole lot easier for you.
“If sticking it to the religious establishment doesn’t do it for you, let’s go for the whole ball of wax. You know, Jesus, God promises a lot, but I can deliver. This empire is ruining everything for everybody. If you join my side we can put an end to Rome. And think how grateful people would be to have you for Caesar rather than what they have had.”
None of it worked, and from that day Jesus went about trying to help everybody, not just himself, find their identity in God. But the temptation lingers. We hear it every day. “Do you think God really wants us to love our enemies? That’s kind of risky. Don’t regard other people’s bodies as simply a source for our pleasure? Why not? Love God with everything we’ve got. And all those people we’re not supposed to even like, or care about, much less love? Who really does that? Trust what Jesus said about God’s love? Eternal life? All that stuff? Don’t you think he maybe was a bit off the deep end? Maybe we need to make it up for ourselves, find our own spirituality. Something that makes sense to us.
I’m intrigued about the settings or locations of these two temptations stories. Where were Adam and Eve, where was Jesus at the time of tempting? Adam and Eve were in the Garden. Eden. Paradise. Jesus was in the place where they ended up. The wilderness. Jesus began his ministry right where Adam took us. In this wilderness where you sometimes have to struggle so hard to get it to give you so little.
Jesus, knew, though where he was going. We talk about all kinds of ways to describe this thing we call the Kingdom or realm of God. I call it the Culture of God. People call it the Commonwealth of God. In study group the other night Mike was talking about some of the ways he has heard folk talk about it, like the economy of God.
Maybe Paradise, or Eden, or the Garden is another way of saying it. “The Garden of Eden is in your midst.” “You are not far from Paradise.” The Garden of Eden was a powerful metaphor for early Christians. Here’s a whole fat book about it.
The Lenten Journey doesn’t end on Good Friday, but Easter morning. Where did they find Jesus that morning? In the garden. I don’t even need a power point slide for this. Adam and Eve start in the Garden and end up dying in the wilderness. Jesus starts in the wilderness and ends up alive in the Garden. The biblical writers aren’t even being subtle here. Garden to wilderness to garden. It’s no wonder the Apostle Pual referred to Jesus as the second Adam. But we still miss it.
If we are going to get back to the Garden, if Jesus is going to really take us there, we are going to experience the same temptation the Jesus and Adam and Eve did. Are we going to trust what God said? Are we going to trust that we are created in God’s image and, as we talked about at the Study Group, created to not only seek God’s Realm, God’s Culture, the Garden, or however you say it, but help build it?
Did God really say…? How often and in how many ways do we keep hearing that? Our response takes us closer or farther away from the Garden.
You all know that part of the prayer, “and lead us not into temptation?” Thinking about Jesus and Adam and Eve gets me looking at that in a more intentional way. I’m not into Lenten disciplines, but contemplating how tempted I am to not believe God might do me some good.
Jesus knew something about temptation. He knew where it can lead us. So far from the Garden. So far from that place where we stand naked and unashamed before God and each other and ourselves.
These are two pretty well known temptation stories, we’ve talked about today. But the only one that really matters is ours.