Voice of Temptation

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Matt 4:1-11

I’ve not been a huge fan of this story from Genesis. I’ll confess that right now.

Eve makes bad decisions that have caused women misery for yearrrsss. Adam doesn’t seem to make any of his own decisions, but is happy to let Eve take the fall. And the snake—I hate meddlers. He shows up just to make a mess. Ain’t nobody got time for meddlers.

It has long been used to blame women for all sorts of things, even in the New Testament. The author of 1 Timothy writes:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Since you just heard the Genesis text read, I trust that you are wondering, “wait, Marci, wasn’t Adam a part of it? Didn’t he eat the fruit too?”

Why, yes. Yes, he did. Thank you for noticing. You are correct.

This text is used to keep women from full flourishing in the church and in the world. People have used this text to justify witch trials in the Middle Ages and to restrict women serving in churches even today.

This text is used to support the theological understandings of “The Fall”, where we left a garden of earthly delights for a life of labor in a hard world because of original sin.

But the word “Fall” does not occur in the text.

Neither does the word “Sin”.

And, if you noticed, there was already labor in the garden. God put Adam in the garden, before Eve ever showed up, to tend it, to care for it. The life of labor wasn’t because Eve handed Adam a piece of fruit. Labor in the garden was part of the plan all along.

And so this text just gets me all fired up.

William Blake

William Blake

But then I read Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain. And it all changed for me.

I’d like to share a few excerpts from it:

“I feel exactly like an experiment; it would be impossible for a person to feel more like an experiment than I do, and so I am coming to feel convinced that that is what I AM — an experiment; just an experiment, and nothing more.

Then if I am an experiment, am I the whole of it? No, I think not; I think the rest of it is part of it. I am the main part of it, but I think the rest of it has its share in the matter. Is my position assured, or do I have to watch it and take care of it? The latter, perhaps. Some instinct tells me that eternal vigilance is the price of supremacy. [That is a good phrase, I think, for one so young.]

They returned the moon last night, and I was SO happy! I think it is very honest of them. It slid down and fell off again, but I was not distressed; there is no need to worry when one has that kind of neighbors; they will fetch it back. I wish I could do something to show my appreciation. I would like to send them some stars, for we have more than we can use.

I have learned a number of things, and am educated, now, but I wasn’t at first. I was ignorant at first. At first it used to vex me because, with all my watching, I was never smart enough to be around when the water was running uphill; but now I do not mind it. I have experimented and experimented until now I know it never does run uphill, except in the dark. I know it does in the dark, because the pool never goes dry, which it would, of course, if the water didn’t come back in the night. It is best to prove things by actual experiment; then you KNOW; whereas if you depend on guessing and supposing and conjecturing, you never get educated.

Some things you CAN’T find out; but you will never know you can’t by guessing and supposing: no, you have to be patient and go on experimenting until you find out that you can’t find out. And it is delightful to have it that way, it makes the world so interesting. If there wasn’t anything to find out, it would be dull. Even trying to find out and not finding out is just as interesting as trying to find out and finding out, and I don’t know but more so. The secret of the water was a treasure until I GOT it; then the excitement all went away, and I recognized a sense of loss.

At first I couldn’t make out what I was made for, but now I think it was to search out the secrets of this wonderful world and be happy and thank the Giver of it all for devising it. I think there are many things to learn yet — I hope so; and by economizing and not hurrying too fast I think they will last weeks and weeks. I hope so.

Reading Eve’s Diary made me consider our quest for knowledge in a different light.

What would it be like to be a new creation in paradise?

To be in wonder and awe at the moon as it rises and falls in the sky?

To want to grab the stars when they appear in the darkness and not understand why they were beyond our grasp?

And then the tempter shows up and we’re told:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Would you have done any differently?

I would have eaten that fruit in a hot minute if I thought it would make the world clear to me and explain the orbit of the planets and the mechanism of fire.

I wonder if I would eat it today, actually. If it could explain to me mosquitoes, and why children get cancer, and I don’t know, honey boo boo.

But knowledge has consequences. And we saw that in the Diary as well.

The secret of the water was a treasure until I GOT it; then the excitement all went away, and I recognized a sense of loss.”

There are consequences to wanting to know what God hasn’t given us to understand.

Here’s what the diary says about the passage we read today in Genesis:

AFTER THE FALL

When I look back, the Garden is a dream to me. It was beautiful, surpassingly beautiful, enchantingly beautiful; and now it is lost, and I shall not see it any more.

The cost of wisdom and knowledge for Adam and Eve is they had to leave the garden. Paradise Lost, as another writer famously described it.

The story of the garden is a story about discovering who we are.

Discovering our limits.

Bumping up against them, day after day and trying to figure out where there is still discovery to be made, feeling where we’re pushing beyond the limits of knowledge intended for us.

Nuclear weapons.

Human cloning.

Genetic testing and gene modification.

Aren’t there days we’re excited about possibilities and discovery and other days we’re sure we’re near the precipice?

God gave us minds and expects us to use them, as a friend of mine often says.

God did not give us all wisdom and knowledge, however.

Navigating that distinction is a task to be pursued with courage. Figuring out where the lure of knowledge is a voice leading us in the wrong direction is full time work.

If the Garden story is about who we are as we navigate those voices, the story of Jesus’ temptation is a story about who Jesus is as he navigates the voice of the tempter in his own life. Because the tempter couldn’t, realistically, tempt us to turn stones into bread, or tempt us to save ourselves after we jump off the tallest building in town, or tempt us to believe we could truly rule the world. These are Jesus’ temptations, not ours.

Jesus, as soon as God pronounces him as the Beloved, is faced with his own temptations that challenge who he is in relation to God, challenge who he is called to be, and challenge what he’ll do with the power he has.

Is the knowledge God has given to him enough?

Or does he, like Adam and Eve, like us, want MORE?

The NRSV translates the tempter’s question as “if you are the Son of God….” but that word in Greek can just as easily be translated as “since”. Since you are the Son of God, the tempter offers him, why don’t you perform miracles just because you can, why don’t you cause a public scene that will show everyone what you can do, why don’t you use your power to control the world?

I wonder if sometimes we aren’t the tempter in Jesus’ story. Are there times when we ask Jesus to be someone he isn’t? Do we ask for clear signs, and power, and miracles that serve only our purposes and curiosities and not God’s dreams and intentions?

Are there times when we want Jesus to fit into our own expectations for who he should be, how he should behave, and how he could use his power to our benefit?

I wonder if these temptation stories are reminders for us to live our lives with great confidence and passion about who we are, who we have been called to be, and how we can make a difference in the world.

Adam and Eve didn’t quite get that. They were living in paradise, but it somehow wasn’t enough. In eating the fruit, they showed they didn’t know who they were, they didn’t trust who they were supposed to be. They wanted to be something else—in this case, wise and with the knowledge of God. It shows they hadn’t learned which voice to trust

But Jesus knew who he was. He’d heard “this is my beloved Child, in whom I am well pleased” and he believed it. Deep down inside. He knew who he was.

He knew who he was called to be, and so the tempting voices weren’t the problem for him as they were for Adam and Eve, as they are for us.

During Lent, we journey to the cross. I don’t think Jesus could have made that journey without knowing, deep down inside, who he was and who he was called to be.

I invite you, during Lent, to consider your own identity, your own calling, your own confidence in the love of God who created you and calls you Beloved Child.

This weekend I watched the movie 42, about when the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers decided it was time to integrate Major League Baseball and he called up Jackie Robinson from the Negro Leagues.

It is a great film, and out on video if you haven’t yet seen it. This movie reminded me, again and again, of how difficult it is to know and trust our own identities when the world tempts us to believe we are less than beloved children of God.

As people hurl horrible insults at Jackie, he has to have the strength NOT to respond, because it would just prove his opponents right if he responded in violence, proving black men didn’t belong in baseball. At one point he told his wife, “I have enough confidence in myself. God built me to last.”

The story that caught my attention was Pee Wee Reese, the famed short stop of the Dodgers. He wasn’t thrilled about Robinson joining the team, but he wasn’t as nasty about it as some of the other teammates. He just tried to keep his head down and play ball.

But then the team was headed to play Cincinnati, which was just down the road from Reese’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. And his people didn’t want him on the field with Jackie Robinson.

Reese had received a letter calling him a carpetbagger and warning him not to take the field with Robinson. He took that letter to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey who showed him a file of hundreds of letters Robinson had received, calling him much worse than a carpetbagger, many of them threatening his life.

Branch just dismisses Reese at that point, and Reese is left to consider who has been carrying the weight of integration so far.

Reese, later in life, reflecting on that story, said “just don’t make me out to be a hero. It took no courage to do what I did. Jackie had the courage.”

As Pee Wee discovered after he was dismissed from Rickey’s office, in order for him to live into his best self, it was time to stand up to the voices that were calling out the temptation to hate and lie. If he were really a beloved child of God, how was he going to live into that identity? And what Reese discovered, was that he couldn’t see himself as a child of God unless he saw Jackie that way too.

Perhaps, if we can live into our own identity as God’s beloved children, then the temptations of this world will not have nearly the power over us that they might now. May it be so. Amen.

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7 thoughts on “Voice of Temptation

      • There’s a kind of mystical note here that I really like. Excellent point that Jesus “knows who he is” so he can take the taunts of Satan with equanimity whereas the problems of humans are heavily rooted in the insecurity of “not knowing,” ergo the goal of the human should be (inter alia) to “know more,” “know deeper,” i.e., to seek to imitate Jesus …

  1. Why do protestants spend so much time on sin and the fall? I grew up otherwise, and it was never mentioned once.

    • Diane, it isn’t Protestants as much as it is any Christian tradition rooted in Augustine. He was the one who really developed a sense of “the Fall”. Modern evangelicals have certainly made ‘sin’ their issue, but it goes way back in Christianity–all the way to Augustine.

  2. Thank you for giving me a new way of thinking about this passage. I always look forward to reading your sermons on Monday, but this one really was special.

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