You know it’s the first Sunday of Lent when Satan shows up in more than one text. Here we are again with Eve and Adam eating of the forbidden fruit because Eve fell prey to a sneaky serpent. Then we are out in the desert with Jesus again as he faces the temptations of appetites, power, and greed. In between we have the theological reflections of the Psalmist and of Paul. What do we say that we have not already said?
I’m not sure we have to say anything particularly new. These texts have a power all their own because of the Truth they contain. Eve succumbed to the serpent because she wanted to know. Can we really be tempted by things that we have no interest in? Adam followed right along to satisfy his own curiosity; it wasn’t really all Eve’s fault if Adam decided for himself. The Truth of this story is that humanity has always wanted to know more. Our quest for knowledge is insatiable. At core, don’t we want to know all the answers? And with knowledge comes some radical shifts in how we live, not always for the best. Sometimes knowledge leads to sins far greater than the sins committed in innocence.
Now we move ahead to Jesus who, as Paul states, brings “justification and life for all.” Before that could happen, though, Jesus had to face his humanity. How better than to be tempted by Satan after forty days of fasting in the wilderness. In Matthew’s account, Satan tries to get Jesus to turn stones to bread. How easy it would be to use that divine power to satisfy the very human need for bread. Jesus is having none of it though. So Satan moves on to tempting Jesus with power. They are at the highest point, the pinnacle of the temple, and Satan tells Jesus to throw himself down because God will save him; Jesus is that valuable and has that much power. Again, Jesus has none of it. So Satan tries one more time and by appealing to the very selfish part of human nature. If you want everything, then worship me and it will be yours. Jesus isn’t interested, yet again.
We know the story, of course. I think these are texts that uphold hope. We need to revisit them yearly. They remind us that that when we are out in those wild, untamed places where temptation rules more often than not, God has been there before. Christ knows what it is like to feel at the mercy of our appetites. Christ knows what it’s like to feel the pull of power that says we are more important than everyone else. Christ also knows the draw of wanting more and more. In those desperate moments when Satan speaks louder than all else, God is there with us. God’s desire for us is wholeness, to remember that we are God’s very own beloved. Even when we give in to temptation and try to fill those empty places within us, God is there waiting to answer our pain with love and grace.
What word of hope will you bring this week? Will you visit Eve, Adam, and the serpent to discover God’s presence there? Will you speak mercy with the Psalmist? Will you try to explain the mysteries of faith with Paul? Or will you wander out into the wilderness to encounter grace and hope in the midst of all the tempts us into believing that we do not need God?
Wherever the Spirit is leading you, please join in the conversation so we can all share this Lenten journey.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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