Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19
The First Sunday of Lent begins in a Garden setting and will end with Good Friday’s presentation of Jesus resisting temptation in another garden and His death and burial in a third. In these scriptural gardens then, we see growth, life, and death, and then, New Life again.
In today’s First Reading we hear of “The Fall”. Before this though we hear of our being created from the earth and having God’s breath shared with the clay. Always there is the clay and always the breathing of God. The former is so disappointing and the latter is so mysterious.
This story is an explanation of the disappointment we are to ourselves and how it all began. The serpent tempts these “earthlings” to take into themselves some form of equality with God, but without God’s breathing it into them. There is a double temptation here. The fruit of the tree is “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” The senses are tempted by the external aspects. The deeper human longing is tempted by the offering of “easy Wisdom”.
The temptations through the senses are easier for us to understand. Those things which delight us we desire; we know from experience that we love raisins, but not kumquats. The more difficult temptation has to do with our inner selves. Adam and Eve achieved the knowledge of good and evil, but not the wisdom to discern easily and consistently 'which is which' in every situation. When they realized that they were naked, they assumed the disappointing division. They were more of the clay than the breath so they had to cover up their dirt-iness.
As I was finishing the last paragraph, one of my Jesuit brothers came into my room and in a secretive tone, offered or tempted me with a glass of cold milk and two large cookies. God has a great sense of timing and humor and the person who baked those cookies had a great sense of taste. “O flesh, you are so disappointing at times.”
The Gospel for this Sunday pictures Jesus’ being led by The Holy Spirit out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. The devil approaches and offers or tempts Him with some attractive “cookies”. The temptations move from the outside realities of possessions and attractive power, to the more interior temptation concerning identity.
Adam and Eve as well as Israel itself, had forsaken their God-given identities for something more sensible, something more visible. Matthew portrays Jesus as a New Adam, a New Israel Who has received His name and sacred identity.
When the tempter says, “if you are…” Jesus answers “I am Who I have heard I am.” By such listening and trusting, will He reverse the consequences of the first garden and rise to give and be life in the Easter Garden.
While considering these readings, I recall clearly my second-grade teaching-Sister’s telling us that one of the consequences to the eating of that apple was that we had to go to school and do homework. I remember walking home for lunch that day so mad that they had fumbled the eternal ball; they had done this to me and I knew there was no place in that whole story about their having to go to school themselves. What a dirty deal!
Jesus heard Who He was and clothed Himself in that identity. Adam and Eve lost their identity and clothed themselves in shame and pretense. We are attending the “School of Lent” these days to rediscover who God says we are and be clothed again in His truth and light. We all have lived through our gardens of temptations. The important thing is whether we have allowed Jesus to minister to us out in the deserts of shame, or recoiled and sewed some kind of fig leaves of false identity with which to hide. As Jesus stayed faithful to His call, His name, His truth, the wonderful blessing is that in doing so He stays faithful to our re-creation. “O happy fault!” Adam and Eve, I forgive you.
“For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much
more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.”
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