Audio First Sunday in Lent Year A
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11, Psalm 32
The truth of the gospel is that it tells us who we are and whose we are. We are God’s beloved, marked and claimed as God’s own. God’s deepest desire is to be in relationship with us. And yet, we don’t believe it. We let all sorts of voices convince us that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not wealthy enough… so why would God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, want to be in relationship with me. There are voices that try to convince us that some of us are included in God’s web of love, and others are not.
But our sacred story shows us over and over that God’s heart’s desire is to love us into wholeness, love us into compassion, love us into mercy and justice, every one of us. And God shows us that desire by being born into our world, living and loving and suffering and dying. Jesus lives this live, just like you and me. God’s heart’s desire is to be in relationship with us.
That’s why this story from Matthew is so very important for us to hear. Jesus has just been baptized by John, the Spirt of God descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is Jesus’ identity, and this is our identity. We are God’s beloveds, with no caveats, no conditions, and no quid pro quos.
This story that takes place in the wilderness, of Jesus and the devil, is the second great quid pro quo, the first was in the garden of Eden. In the garden, the devil said to Adam and Eve, if you eat from this tree, the one God told you not to eat from, then I (the devil) will make you like God. The devil says, if you do what I ask you to do, then you will have everything you think you want, power, beauty, knowledge, control, riches. All of these things seem good, but really are illusory. A little like catching fireflies, they are brilliant to watch, but as soon as you try to keep them in a jar as your own, they die and all you have is dead bugs.
Well, the devil was fairly successful in that garden of Eden story, and humans have been grappling with the seduction of the devil ever since. You and I know this voice of transaction very well. If you just have this one drink, I promise you will feel so much better. If you tell this one lie, you’ll get that job you want. If you cheat on this test, you’ll get that better grade and then everyone will get off your back. We are seduced by what we think we want, what we think will make us happy. And the rub is that whatever it is in the moment seems so good, so right.
That is exactly what is happening with Jesus. THE quid pro quo, If you do this Jesus, then I will give you power and glory, and you will have command of all that bows down before you.
I’m reminded of Edmund, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Edmund is the third child in a family of four children. He is overshadowed by his older brother Peter, and Edmund suffers from a lack of confidence that contributes to a rather unfortunate series of decisions. When the children enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe, they encounter eternal winter, brought on by the despicable Queen. The Queen approaches Edmund and tempts him with the sugary concoction, Turkish delight, and some warm and wonderful hot cocoa as well. Thus begins Edmund’s turn toward the despicable Queen, and away from the Lion Aslan, his brother and sisters, and all that represents.
You see, just about without an exception, temptation looks and feels delicious. It is part of our very humanity to seek out that which we believe is positive, pleasurable, and good. We always embark on the road to perdition with the belief that it is in fact a good. That is the nature of seduction. It begins with a beautiful face, it begins with a ripe red apple, it begins with mouthwatering tastiness, it begins with the promise of relief, escape, pleasure, it begins in wonder and amazement, but many times it does not end well. And yet, often we are powerless to know it or to see it.
The great seducer in our gospel today shows Jesus three wonderful and amazing things. First, stones that may become bread. It may be hard to imagine yourself as Jesus, or not, but try for a moment. You are concerned about poverty and starvation all over the known world. Your instructions to those who follow you are to feed the hungry; over and over you ask your friends and followers to feed the hungry. And here you are presented with a solution to world hunger. Command these stones to become bread. That’s it, that’s all it takes. There are enough stones in the world if they all became bread there would be no child going to bed hungry at night. Who wouldn’t say yes? Feeding people is good, isn’t it?
Second, ultimate safety. If you were unable to be hurt, you would be able to continue to relieve world hunger forever and for always? If you were unable to be hurt, you would be able to love everyone all the time? If you are unable to be hurt, you would not have to go to the cross to die? Sounds like a good, doesn’t it?
Third, authority. Everyone and everything answering to you. With ultimate authority, everyone would follow your rules and your rules are good rules. Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. The world would be perfect if you were in charge.
What’s so wrong with this scene? Nothing at all. Nothing at all. That is the nature of seduction. It looks so good. It tastes so good. It feels so good. It must be right. We are human after all. What makes this story so powerful is that we have been there. Each and every one of us has been there; we may even be there yet today. This is about Jesus, and it is about each of us. You see, it isn’t black and white, right or wrong, it isn’t obvious or clear, and don’t let anyone seduce you into thinking that it is. This journey of life is full of choices, which is God’s gift to us, choice, and a pile of love to go with it, because we know that God's love wins. Even Jesus had the choice, the choice to follow the seducer, the choice to give in to the pain and suffering of his journey, the choice to walk away from the cross.
God gives us the choice, and with the choice is unconditional love. Not transactional love, not a quid pro quo, but a relationship of love, of mercy, of compassion, of hope. Because even when we are seduced by the power, the riches, the control, God loves us. And God says to us, lay it down, it’s killing you, you are forgiven, you are my beloved.
Thanks be to God.