Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
We’ve all experienced our share of things that seemed like a good idea at the time—but weren’t. There’s the person who learned the hard way that holding on to their friend’s car mirror while skateboarding on a newly paved parking lot wasn’t a good idea; another who, along with a friend used to play a game in the dark where they threw a Swiss army knife up in the air and then ran away from it—with the knife part out. We may reason these are antics belonging to kids. But adults, we aren’t without blame. Consider the decision to fill the Hindenburg with Hydrogen—who thought that was a good idea? What about prohibition? Does anyone really want to go back there? Then there is Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” for China in the 1950’s; and who can forget Russian Tzar Nicholas II taking advice from that famous religious charlatan, Rasputin; Napoleon invading Russia, General Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn… and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, in the annals of history, the human capacity to make poor choices can fill volumes. I suspect most of these folks would agree that somehow it is always much easier to recognize mistakes after they occur.
All of which brings us to the Garden of Eden and the situation befalling Adam and Eve. One could go so far as to say that Adam and Eve were actually seeking something good. Knowledge. These two—they didn’t commit a heinous crime. They are not tempted by murder or violence. What they are drawn by is a desire for knowledge. They are tempted by something that they are told is “good for food” and “pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom.” Where, we might reason, is the harm in that? All proof that it is all too easy for our downfall to sneak up on us—rather like a snake in the grass.
So, what is the nature of this first couple’s sin? We’re given a large hint by the serpent who offers the tantalizing suggestion: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There it is: “You will be like God.” The sin is a desire for power—to be as God. Which all goes to show that the greatest temptations to sin are never couched in offers to fail—but in the suggestion that we shall rise in triumph, instead.
Notice here the contrast between the desire of Adam and Eve to be like gods—and the actions of our Savior in this Sunday’s gospel reading. Here, Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Each of these temptations are suggestions that Jesus leave behind the limitations of his humanity and use power befitting the Son of God. Think about it: Turning stones into bread—sounds innocuous enough. What could be wrong with transforming stones into food when you are hungry and have just fasted for forty days? For that matter, what’s wrong about amassing the wealth and power of the kingdoms of the world if you have benevolent intentions? And, really—why not throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple if that will erase the doubts of the populace that you are indeed the chosen Son of God?
Unlike Adam and Eve, who reached for the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Jesus chooses another way. He chooses to be resolutely human, rather than playing the role of God. Jesus knows that evil is often couched in the most pleasing of sights and phrases, and rather that coming with a warning sign posted where it can be clearly read; it often arrives with the suggestion of accomplishing a great good—be it in the name of science, human achievement, patriotism and even compassion.
Where, then, is our hope? By virtue of our nature, we humans are capable of doing unbelievably stupid and prideful things. The answer is that this story—the one from the Garden of Eden as well as the story of Jesus’ Temptations in the Wilderness, these aren’t just stories about us—they are also stories about God.
So let’s look again at what they tell us about the nature of God. In the story from the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden, their lives made more difficult by what they now understood; but those lives, they weren’t impossible. In fact, many scholars and philosophers have read these stories as being less about the fall of human nature; and more as a tale of human maturation, concluding, as did Richard Hanson, that “life is a pilgrimage from innocence to maturity through a land fraught with the dangers of loving and hating, growing powerful and cowering in humiliation, living and finally dying…”
However you choose to read this story; here is one takeaway of which I urge you not to lose sight. Adam and Eve, they might have been evicted from Eden; but they didn’t leave behind them the love of God. They carried that with them. That love followed them through the host of bad decisions made by their progeny—beginning with Cain and Abel; and continuing well into our present age. What our faith assures us is this; that God has been leading us toward redemption for thousands of years, culminating in the promise of the resurrection, accomplished through his Son.
The Season of Lent is a time in which we are called to remember that we are not God. During this time in our Lenten wilderness, we are reminded of our mortal nature—beginning with the ashes upon our foreheads this past Wednesday. We are dust. We are not God. But even so, we are a people who are called to live with hope. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans this week, even the gravest of sins is dwarfed by the great mercy of God. Even an act that brought death itself into the world is overwhelmed by the abundance of God’s grace and mercy. That is Good News!
There is no eluding the fact that we live in a world which, in many ways, is not as it should be. It is broken. It is rife with sin and evil. So, isn’t it good news that while we are responsible for making the best choices we can, and fixing the wrongs of which we are aware; we are not the ones holding the key to the solution—that belongs to a God who is more merciful, trustworthy and compassionate than we are, even at our very best. In other words, it is good news that God is God, and we are not.
English writer, author and lay theologian, G.K. Chesterton was once asked to contribute an essay to an English journal on the theme, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ He sent back to the editors a two-word essay: ‘What is Wrong with the World? Chesterton’s answer: I am.” True enough. So thanks be to God that God is God, and we are not. In Jesus’ name. Amen.