I.Theme – Dealing with Sin and Temptation
Duccio di Buoninsegna – “Temptation of Christ on the Mountain” (1308-11)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Old Testament – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm – Psalm 32
Epistle –Romans 5:12-19
Gospel – Matthew 4:1-11
One key word this week is “Sin” and it fits in well with Lent. We remember Jesus 40 day fast and resulting temptation by the devil. The 40 days fits in with the period designated for Lent. Lent is 6 days of fasting over 7 weeks with the period at Ash Wednesday. Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.
As we begin Lent, let’s start at the very beginning and consider why we need to go on this trip in the first place.
What does it mean to be human ? From the Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, through Paul’s exploration of how Jesus functions as a “second Adam,” to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, these readings cut to the chase of what it is to be human.
The other key word this week is “temptation.” As Brian Stoffregen writes “ Wherever it comes, the tempter/tester does not have the power to make someone do something. Temptation is not coercion. The serpent in the garden didn’t make Eve and Adam eat the apple. The devil in our text can’t make Jesus turn stones into bread. “To tempt” means to try and convince someone to do something. It means enticing someone to want to do something. Tempters can’t make someone do something bad, but try to make the temptee want to do something bad. They don’t take away the will. Rather, they try to change one’s will.”
“The way [the devil] seeks to change our wills is by lying, by stretching the truth. Generally, [the devil] entices us not to do great evil acts, but to good things for the wrong reasons. It could be argued that none of Jesus’ temptations were to do anything grossly evil, but to do good things for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time.”
In essence we need a relationship with God living not by our own whims but by God’s limits. We are also tempted to be self-succient in Genesis by eating of the tree of knowledge as Jesus is tempted to be self sufficient in turning stone into bread, cheating death and controlling the whole world. We are insufficient, We are not complete in and of ourselves, that lack is a permanent part of our condition.
There is more to it as David Lose maintains. “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 amid our needs and learn, with Paul, that God’s grace is sufficient for us.”
Lose continues, “Perhaps faith, that is, doesn’t do away with the hardships that are part and parcel of this life, but rather 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 thereby 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 be recalling whose we are.”
In the story, humankind ‘falls’ from a state of grace and blessing in an ideal world to the state of sinful creature in a world beset by hardship and wickedness. This ‘fallen’ state is then passed from generation to generation, and is that from which we are redeemed in Jesus.
It is about limits – the tendency to transgress the relationship established between God and humans, to want to be more than the human creatures they are created to be. It is not so much about a ‘fall’, as about hubris, the attempt to be more than what one is, to gain qualities not intended for human possession; in short, to seek to be like God.
It does not speak about a point in time when sin entered the world, as much as about how it enters. In addition, many things have been read into the story which it does not support, such as the close association of the woman with sin, and the connection of the serpent with Satan.
One thing to note is that the garden, which the Lord plants, is not a place especially prepared for human occupation; ‘paradise’ as it has been called. Rather, this garden possesses all the qualities of a place where gods reside in ancient myths. It is a place of abundant fertility, with supernatural trees of great beauty offering divine gifts (wisdom and life; 2:9). There is a subterranean source of life-giving water which feeds the whole earth (2:6, 10-14). It is the place where the Lord resides and takes rest (3:8) and where, in the presence of other divine creatures (the cherubim and flaming sword in 3:24, and the ‘us’ referred to in 3:22), the Lord makes decrees affecting the destiny of the world (3:16-19). The Garden of Eden is not intended to be a human ‘paradise’, but is actually the garden of God into which humans are placed by the one who is its chief resident (cf. Ezek 28:1-19).
Our reading is excerpts from an epic tale about the creation of humanity, beginning from after the creation of “the heavens and the earth” (2:4), a time when the earth was semi-arid. Ancient peoples thought that there were waters under the earth. Seepage of this water was insufficient for cultivation; as yet there was no rain and “no one to till the ground” (2:5).
At that time, God formed human (Hebrew: adam) “from the dust of the ground” (2:7) and gave him his spirit of life. God put in Eden (2:8), his earthly domain, to cultivate (“till”) and care for it.
First, the creature is to “serve” this garden. The traditional translation of this word as “till” is plainly a throwback to the King James reading, published in 1611, which reflected an agriculturally based culture. But this Hebrew word is the common word “serve,” from which, for example, the word “slave” derives. Tilling” implies that I am in control of the garden and am called to work it so as to make it better, more productive. That in itself is not so bad, but it can become dangerous if I assume that I am in fact in complete control of the garden, rather than being a servant of the soil, working in consort with it to make the garden more fruitful.
Second, the creature is to “protect/guard” the garden. The more common reading “keep” has the air of ownership, of having a rightful claim on the garden. To protect or guard the garden is a more useful partner with “serve”; I serve the garden and then I protect that which I serve. I do not control or own.
God tells him he may eat the fruit of the trees there, except for two:
that of “the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17), of complete knowledge and understanding (or of moral choice); and
that of “life” (2:9, 3:3), of eternal life, of becoming divine.
Plainly, God, who presumably is the possessor of the “knowledge of everything,” wants to be certain that God’s created creature does not seek such vast and ultimately divine knowledge
If he does, he will “die”, i.e. be separated from God. God provides human with an equal “partner” (2:18) of human’s flesh. Thus the tale explains sex, of “Man” (2:23, Hebrew: ish) and “Woman” (isha).
At this point, the couple do not see shame in nudity, for their relationship to God is guiltless. Now the snake, a mischievous creature, (also a character in other ancient epics) appears. He sows doubt in the woman’s mind about what God has commanded, and she responds inaccurately (3:2): she adds “nor shall you touch it” (3:3). The snake suggests that God is trying to fool her: rather than dying, she will attain mastery of knowledge, and become divine (“like God”, 3:5).
She finds this irresistible; she eats of its fruit and gives some to the man. Nudity is now embarrassing, for the couple has lost its innocent trusting relationship with God (3:8). In 3:8-19 God metes out punishment for disobeying his order:
to the snake: it will lack legs and eat dust;
to the woman: (a) despite the great pain of child-bearing, she will seek to bear more children; (b) (in an ancient society) man “shall rule over you”;
to the man: (a) cultivation will be hard ; (b) he will die, returning to “dust”; and
to all three: humans and snakes will be enemies.
Thus are explained some basic facts of life. But sin has not changed God’s intent: Eve is “mother of all living” (3:20) and God protects the couple by making “garments” (3:21) for them. To protect them from exceeding human limitations and becoming like gods, he expels them from Eden, into the ordinary world.
There are limits – We simply cannot eat of the tree of divine knowledge; it is far too dangerous for us human beings to do so. God made us to serve and protect the great garden of God. But we would rather control and plunder and take over, forgetting that God is creator and sustainer of all of us and of all of the cosmos
The result of this transgression is alienation in every direction: the woman and the man from each other, the humans from the ground, and the humans from the Lord God. The intimacy that was the hallmark of the garden, has been broken. Indeed Eve also attempts to pass the buck, blaming her sin on the snake. Adam blames Eve on causing this trouble – and so it goes.
We have to reclaim our relationship with God and that is part of Lent
This psalm has elements of lament (e.g. vv. 3-4), aspects of penitential psalms (e.g. vv. 1-2, 5) and elements of wisdom psalms in vv. 1-2, and 8-9. The psalm is often classed as one of the seven penitential psalms but is really of a mixed type. As a whole, the psalmist revels in the Lord’s forgiveness (vv. 1-5) and urges other faithful ones to offer prayer to God (v. 6). The theme of forgiveness fits well with the Old Testament and Gospel readings for this week.
The psalm opens with a statement of blessedness or happiness . The psalmist tells us what he has learned in life: happiness is having one’s sin forgiven and taken away (“covered”) by God, and enjoying a clear conscience (v. 2). Forgiveness is joy. In the first two verses the psalmist uses four different nouns to describe ‘sin’ translated into English by transgression, sin, iniquity and deceit
In vv. 3-5 the psalmist traces their journey toward forgiveness. He states his experiences: he was seriously ill (“your hand was heavy upon me”) and was in pain (“groaning”), both signs of his alienation from God. (Illness was commonly regarded as punishment for sin.)
Silence was the psalmist’s enemy. He didn’t get it in the open – sin got the better of him. The psalmist’s relationship with God at this time feels oppressive and they are deeply drained of energy and life. It is only when the psalmist acknowledges their sin to God that they know relief. Above all, they know forgiveness. He acknowledged his sin and did not continue his waywardness (“I did not hide …”, v. 5); he confessed to God, and God forgave him.
The psalmist’s immediate response (vv. 6-7) is to call all who are faithful to offer prayer to God, especially when they are in distress, which could be by reason of their own sin or other circumstances. They have found God to be a place of security and the source of ‘glad cries of deliverance’. T
In the theology of this psalm, confession of sin and subsequent forgiveness are not simply private matters, between the sinner and God. While they are that in one respect, they are things which have ramifications for the whole of the confessor’s community. Confession and forgiveness flow over into mutual building up the other community of the faithful.
There is ambiguity in vv. 8-9. It is unclear whether these words are those of the psalmist as one who has experienced forgiveness and who now dares to teach another the way they should go or are we hearing the Lord’s own words to the psalmist – he will lead the psalmist in his ways, through instruction and counsel. Don’t be like “a horse or a mule” (v. 9) who must be coerced into action: use your initiative in being open to God.
V. 11 is spoken to the congregation in the Temple, calling calling the people to shout for joy (v. 11) even as they experienced such joy (v. 7). They matter of individual confession spills over in the community not only in terms of calls to prayer and words of exhortation, but also in feelings of joy and acts of celebration. Individual confession and forgiveness are truly matters of community concern and benefit.
Paul has said that Christians, reconciled to God, will be saved, sharing in the risen life of Christ.
Two notions are important here: the punishment for Adam’s sin was to die both physically and spiritually (“death came through sin”); and we both sin ourselves and share in his sin (“spread to all”).
Paul contrasts Adam and Christ, both inaugurators of eras. Adam foreshadowed Christ as head of humanity (“type”, v. 14, precursor). Adam disobeyed God’s direct command (“the transgression”, v. 14, “the trespass”, v. 15).
The “free gift”, i.e. Christ, is unlike Adam’s sin:
-“many died” before Christ’s coming but even more so are “many” (indeed all) saved through Christ;
-Adam was condemned to separation from God but Christ brings union with God (vv. 16, 18);
-Adam’s sin allowed “death” (v. 17) to rule through the Devil (“that one”) but we let good rule our hearts (“dominion in life”); and
-Adam’s action led to the sin of many but Christ’s will lead many to godliness (v. 19), to “eternal life” (v. 21).
(Vv. 13-14b are an aside: before God gave Moses the Law, humans were not held accountable for their sins; even so they died.)
Paul, however, does not think we are dealing with some kind of easy formula but that we are in real relationships that have choices and consequences. In these personal relationships, personal responses matter.
The sin Paul talks of does not need to be understood only as personal but systemic and institutional. We are all part of the sin that keeps people poor, and makes power rest with the powerful, even the sin that passes through generations. We can easily pass on negativity to different groups through prejudice and fear. Equally, the salvation Christ brings is not limited to the individual. Salvation is found in the destroying of the forces that bind us, that brings dull living and limits people.
The law does not help here, according to Paul, for what we need is love to free us fully. Paul is quick with the Law and we cannot fully unpack it but the full transformation comes through love.
This scripture is the famous narrative of Jesus’ temptations as told by Matthew. The disciples probably knew none of the details of Jesus’ trials, for temptation is essentially a personal inner battle with one’s conscience. Jesus has 40 days of fast before being tempted. “Forty days” (v. 2) reminds us of Moses and Elijah, both of whom also fasted for forty days as they prepared for their roles as God’s agents to Israel – as does Jesus.
The devil appears in Genesis first as the snake. In Job, Satan acts as a secret agent of God who tests the loyalty of Job through a series of tragic calamities. Indeed, the name “Satan,” comes from the Persian for just such a person – a secret agent of the King who secretly tests subjects’ loyalty to the King. In that belief system, world history was viewed as a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and light and those of evil and darkness with each represented by various angelic or demonic beings. Satan became the force of evil in the world. However, by the time of Jesus, Satan has become a rogue agent a cast out angel who not only tests loyalty but also recruits persons to join his circle of anti-God people.
This is another Old Testament parallel with Israel. Where Israel wandered as punishment for mistrust, however, Jesus fasts and is tempted in order to prove his trust in God and thereby his trustworthiness for the journey ahead. In this way, this scene not only links Jesus to the past of his ancestors, it marks him as superior to them and ready to inaugurate a new era in the ongoing history of God and the people of God.
Why are people tested in the first place? One reason is given in Dt 13:3b: “for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.” A slightly different reason is given in Dt 8:16: “to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.” God wants Jesus/us to pass the test — to prove our abilities to God and to ourselves. It shows the depth of our faith.
The three tests / temptations are intended to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed worthy of the most exalted position: Son of God. All three of the temptations present to Jesus are ways of sinning against the great commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, … soul, and … might”.
What’s wrong with doing these temptations “. They come from a word other than God’s. If Jesus does what the Devil asks — even if they are very good things, he is then living by a word that is not coming out of the mouth of God. They are self-serving. Contrast that with Jesus feeding of the 5,000 which came from Jesus perception of the problem at hand.
God trumps the devil. Good trumps systemic evil. It also allows us to see that our opponents are victimized by the same evil they hope to spread.
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. Indeed, Satan’s temptations get immediately 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 early at his baptism, is now confirmed through Jesus’ unswerving trust in God.
In each case, Jesus rejects the temptation and lodges his identity, future, and fortunes on God’s character and trustworthiness and quotes scripture. He can now expand his personal ministry after dealing with the devil. He has affirmed his call – doing the will of God.
Individually, each temptation invites Jesus to turn away from trust in God in a different way.
1. In the first, the devil invites Jesus to prove his son ship through a display of power; that is, by changing stones to bread. Providing food for all to provide food for all would meeting an obvious human need, corresponding to popular messianic expectation
To do this would be to use his power for his personal benefit. Jesus says that the “word” (v. 4) of God is the chief nourishment. Jesus emphasizes his own humanity rather than as a superman which is closer to the concept of messiah.
We also know that bread as food and bread as money does not solely meet the needs of people. That is, human beings need food and money to live and survive in this world, but food and money are not the ONLY things necessary to live. Not at all. Jesus did not say that bread was not important. Jesus said that a person cannot find life simply by the accumulation of wealth and food.
2. In the second, the temptation is to test God’s fidelity. Is God here among us or not? In this we are putting God to the test.
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.” The holy city was Jerusalem and at a point that overlooked the temple course.
Jesus answers: testing God’s protection by unnecessarily risking life is a mockery of real martyrdom – and of his sacrifice to come (v. 7). When we start looking for miracles to prove God’s presence, we are not living by God’s word.
3. 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. The promise was glory, fame and recognition. Could the devil actually provide this? That’s not clear and the wrong question. The power and authority over the kingdoms of the world comes at too high a price — selling his soul to the devil by worship him. Jesus answers: God is the only god to be worshipped and served (v. 10). Jesus only reveals he is focusing on his mission as the son of God.
Jesus will find his challenges are just beginning and they will come from humans – Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1); Pharisees (19:3); Pharisees and Herodians (22:18); and a legal expert (22:35).
These temptations can be rephrased in a modern context and seem relevant (from “Sermons from Seattle”)
1) People still want free food when hungry. Bread is symbolic of food and money.
2) People still want God to do “magical miracles” and rescue us from our foolish decisions.
3) People still want the glory, recognition, and authority of political power.
From “Sermons from Seattle”
We are continually being tested in our lives.
“The power of evil is forever testing us to draw us away from God. The power of evil wants to destroy and kill us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Evil wants to destroy our faith in God, our faith in each other, our good values, our good marriages, good families, our good communities, our good nations and any goodness of God living inside of us.
“The power of evil tests us in order to see what quality of genuine faith lives inside of our hearts.
“We all they know the numerous tests of life: a sudden battle with cancer, a heart attack, a loss of our child, war, starvation, hunger, financial collapse, marital collapse. The list goes on and on.
“We as Christians are always faced with the power of evil testing us to see if we will crumble and curse God, forget God, not draw on God, and gradually let go of God. That is what the story of Job was about in the Old Testament.
“The power of evil also tempts us. The power of evil knows where we are most vulnerable and “weakest” and often tempts us at those points of our personal life. The Apostle Paul refers to these weaknesses as “the flesh.” Greed, money, success, sex, pride, gluttony, self- righteousness, complacency. The list is endless. “
“Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he faced the inner temptations of the power of evil. Jesus wants us to be full of the Spirit as we face our inner temptations and testings.
“Focus on the phrase, “in the wilderness.” All human beings experience “the wilderness” during our lives. “The wilderness” symbolizes those times when we feel alone, when we feel that we may not be up to the challenge, when we feel the challenges before us are greater than our resources to overcome.
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm – Psalm 32
Epistle – Romans 5:12-19
Gospel – Matthew 4:1-11