9 March 2014
First Sunday in Lent
Lent 1A (RCL)
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
In ancient orthodox theology, sin was defined as the misuse of creation. Our journey through Lent in this year, begins with one of the creation stories in Genesis; however, we leave out a big chunk of it. After God settles the human being in the Garden, God notices that it is not good for the human to be alone, and creates all the animals of creation to find a companion. None of them is satisfactory, so God creates the woman, who at last is a fit companion. God had already given the human being all the plants of the field and the trees of the garden for food, except for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The tempter tempts the human beings to misuse creation, specifically to misappropriate their place within creation, as judges of what is good and evil. That misappropriation of divine status (that they might be like God) is the occasion of their recognition of their nakedness, their unprotected status in the creation. Creation became the scene of contest rather than the scene of harmonious existence when the human beings attempted to take the role of judges of good and evil.
Jesus is offered a similar temptation — the temptation to take divine action to fix his own predicament. The tempter is wily here, quoting scripture to Jesus, to have him claim his own (and Israel’s) exalted status. In all three temptations, Jesus is tempted to do what Israel had done: demand food in the wilderness, demand protection from God as long as the Temple stood, and demand ascendancy over enemies. In all these, Israel had taken the easy way out. Jesus would choose the difficult path. He would accomplish all of the tempter’s temptations: feed the hungry in the wilderness, pass through death into God’s resurrection and accept the kingdoms of the world on the cross.
It is interesting to me that Jesus undergoes these temptations after his baptism. We ourselves are hearing this Gospel after our own baptisms. It would be easy to think that, as Christians, as baptized, dead to sin and alive in Christ, we would not experience these temptations. But Jesus does as a warning to us and an example for us.
We, like Jesus, would like to feed the world, or at least the hungry in our own neighborhood. If we could turn stones to bread, how easy it would be! But when Jesus feeds the 5000 (or 4000) in the wilderness, he only does so after accepting the gifts the crowd has to offer. This is no miraculous food from above, but our own resources multiplied. We, like Jesus, long for God’s protection, but it doesn’t come with a guarantee that we won’t suffer; only that through suffering lies life. And, like Jesus, we would like to bring about the kingdom, but it comes only through obedience and service.
We misuse creation if we think we could fix the world’s problems if we were like God. We think we stand apart from it or above it, and can use it for our own purposes, however noble. But we are creatures, and misuse ourselves if we think we are gods. If we bring food to the hungry without accepting their gifts, we disempower them, even if we make ourselves feel better. Lent is a time to remember our status as creatures, and learn obedience to that status, so that we may cooperate with the divine energies in the rest of creation, to bring the world back into its own place in God’s love and creation.