The First Week of Lent

 

We have arrived at the first Sunday in Lent. As it is year A, on Sunday we heard the story of humanity’s estrangement from God and one another, the so-called Fall, from Genesis; St Paul’s comparison and contrast of Adam with Jesus from Romans; and Matthew’s version of the story of testing of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism.

These readings are so tightly interconnected that it is hard for me to imagine preaching on one without the others. Most preachers don’t agree with me, though! So our usual fare in the pews is a sermon on the testing of Jesus, usually called his temptation in church-speak. But let me invite you with me on a short exploration of all three lessons.

The story from Genesis is very familiar: the crafty serpent plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s motives in forbidding the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden. Once that seed is sown, it undermines her relationship with God so that it isn’t right any more and she eats the fruit. Worse she persuades Adam to eat some too. Now they are both out of right relationship with God, and having learned a certain kind of baseless suspicion they are on the road to lose right relationship with each other and even with themselves.

Paul takes up the story in Romans, telling how from that bad beginning human society became ever more broken. And he takes the figures of Adam and of Jesus, the Messiah, and he both compares them and contrasts them. Each one, in Paul’s schema, provided the opening into human existence for something transformative. Adam, through the experience of suspicion and loss, opened up human beings to a world of loss, a world of condemnation and death. Jesus, through the experience of righteous obedience, opened up human beings to a world of grace, a world of right relationship and life.

In the gospel reading from Matthew we see the first indication of the righteous obedience that Paul was talking about. After his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus went up from the Jordan Valley into the wilderness, led by the Holy Spirit. There, as he attempted to come to terms with the call he experienced at his baptism, Jesus underwent a time of testing. Three times Satan, the Tempter, makes some plausible suggestion in Jesus’s ear, so to speak, by which he could test what he had learned about himself and his Father at the baptism, or seize the power and position which it seemed to promise. Unlike Adam and Eve in the Garden (or the people of Israel during the Exodus), Jesus resists the seeds of suspicion or self-will. Instead of having his relationship with the Father undermined, he cleverly answers Satan’s trial ballons with quotations from the book of Deuteronomy that affirm his relationship with his Father and embody righteous obedience. This is how Jesus begins to walk the road to the Cross, which will allow him to reverse the effects of Adam and Eve’s broken relationships with God and each other.

See you next week, for Lent 2.

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