We are smart enough now to know right from wrong; smart enough, and grown up enough to judge others, and sometimes even ourselves. But, have we realized, have our eyes been opened yet, to the fact that God knew our nakedness even before we sewed on these fig leaves? Do we really think we can hide from God, who knows us inside and out, through and through?
Jesus, in our gospel today, encounters the same Serpent that Adam and Eve were taken-in by. He wrestles with temptation and sin, in his humanness, and conquers them for us, by his divine nature as, Son of God. Jesus- makes a way for us.
The temptation of Jesus follows immediately after his baptism, where he had been “outed” by the Spirit as God’s Son, the beloved, and then sent into the wilderness to “fast for 40 days and 40 nights” by that same Spirit. How then does Jesus resist changing stones into bread when he is famished? Or resist letting angels catch him in their hands while performing a very public swan dive off the Temple? Or, while being shown the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, resist having autocratic control “of all the kingdoms of the world?” Maybe the Son of God can resist theses things, but certainly we aren’t expected to, are we? Adam and Eve couldn’t even resist an afternoon skack, a simple pick-me up! What’s going on here?
It’s worth noting, I think, that something has happened from the time of Adam and Eve, until Jesus was sent by the Spirit. For starters, God fulfilled the promise to Abraham and Sarah of a land flowing with milk and honey and ancestors as numerous as the sands. Not to mention, with Moses as their leader-prophet, God freed the chosen people from slavery, brought them through the Red Sea, and gave them the 10 commandments in the wilderness, on a very high mountain. And, in their disobedience, when the chosen people were punished in Exile to Babylon, God also redeemed them, bringing them home, promising them new life, just like Ezekiel described the rattling dry bones coming together and the Spirit’s breathe reanimating Israel once more. A lot has happened since the Garden of Eden. God has been working for our salvation, throughout history, which had been coming to a climax, in the person of Jesus.
So one thing the people of God have learned along the way is, there is no sin in being tempted. The crafty snake (and temptation) has been around all the while. Sin, or being separated from God and fellow humans, happens only after giving in to temptation, only after fulfilling the false desire the Serpent offers, when human nature, mistakes empty promises, for the promise of life, that only God can bring. Our struggle then is in following the way of Jesus, rather than the Serpent. And if we are followers, disciples of Jesus, why do we skulk behind trees instead of coming out and answering our baptismal call from the Spirit? Why do we think we can get away with accusing, or blaming our problems on God, our friends and our neighbors?
Perhaps it is just easier to be like the snake. We are tempted to think stones will be turned into bread, by somebody, somehow, if God wants everyone to be fed. Because, we have worked hard for what we have, and God is in the business of miracles, right? It’s tempting to go on pursuing our daily bread, without regard to why others don’t have theirs. We prefer miracles in place of responsibility and sacrifice. We ask for world peace, without working for justice. We are tempted to believe God will save us because we have been nice, rather than trust in the God who has given us life and every good gift, which tends to open our eyes to our responsibility to be co-creators with God, and care-takers of the world, and with one another.
The snake seeks to gather us in to the half-truth that, because we are created in the image of God, and thus like God, we can be just as good as God. Then we will know and understand the power we have, the entitlement we are due, and learn to take all that we want, for our own self-sufficiency.
Jesus, invites us to follow him, into a different realm. One of desire, not for what our neighbor has, but desire for life, and love, and a mutual interdependence for all. As Luther said of the 9th commandment about coveting our neighbor’s house: “we are to fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, and obtain it by a show of right, but help and be of service to him or her in keeping it.”
None of us is perfect or free from sin, but we have much better tools than Adam and Eve had to resist the Serpent. We have the scripture, from Adam and Eve to Jesus, the new Adam, and the many stories of God’s salvation history in between. We have the traditions of prayer for one another, and the practice of fasting and works of love. These disciplines of lent were passed down from our Jewish ancestors in the faith, traditions that Jesus knew and practiced. Prayer for one another and the world center us in the mission of Christ. Fasting deepens our appreciation and thanksgiving for the grace of God, and for all we have been given. Works of love and charity – helping and serving our neighbor instead of desiring what they have – provide healthy outlets for our creativity and faith life.
We do not need to skulk around behind trees and buildings any longer, but are able to confess our sinfulness openly in the presence of God and one another, for we trust that God is rich in mercy, having heard the stories of salvation from other believers. We rejoice that, even when we were dead in sin, God loved us, and relying on the power of our baptisms, that we have been made alive to this new life we share as fellow members of the Body of Christ.
Now we know, that sin separates us from the kingdom and realm of God, and from one another. And so, we still have work to do. Now we know that, being saved by Christ, we don’t have to be afraid or ashamed or try to earn it any longer, but we are free to work for the justice and peace of God’s world and all God’s people. The Serpent will work just as hard against us and the realm of God, pushing back with equal determination, for the devil seeks to isolate us one from another, to divide and conquer, and tempt us toward meaningless power and personal gain,. But in the body of Christ, that cannot happen. We have been “outed” as God’s beloved children. Hiding is not an option! Now, we have no shame in the presence of God, but trust in forgiveness, and the hope of new life in the resurrection.