Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 • Psalm 32 • Romans 5:12-19 • Matthew 4:1-11
The readings for Sunday, March 1 cover a lot of territory on temptations. From the Garden of Eden story to a psalm recommending repentance to Romans chapter five to the temptations of Jesus in the desert, sin is centerstage. As Lent begins, it is time to consider these readings on how we humans are tempted – and the consequences for us.
Beginning with perhaps the most complicated reading, in Romans 5, Paul describes death as having come through sin. Now, death has been part of the natural world from the dawning of life on this planet, from way before humans inhabited it. In another sense, though, it seems to me that Paul is spot on. Each and every day, we humans often neglect what we aspire to, letting our hopes die, or at least, languish, while other things occupy our minds and our time. In this way, we humans are all subject to operating as less than the persons we are capable of being. The story of Adam and Eve is itself a case study in how easily we can be led astray. Eve is being convinced by a snake, for crying out loud, to doubt God. Adam is going along with whatever she says. Together, Adam and Eve are two adults acting like children, throwing away the life they have been given in a fit of immaturity.
Jesus shows us another way to operate: a way to stay fully alive. The important thing here is that it is not an easy way. Being fully alive means several things:
· Being fully able to experience pain and sadness. When the tempter offers bread to Jesus, after a long fast, it is his willingness to embrace the pain of hunger that kept him from succumbing to temptation. Much sin begins with avoiding one's own human emotions rather than finding, acknowledging, and thoughtfully considering them.
· Being mortal with no expectation to be exempt from the rules everyone has to follow. When the tempter offers Jesus super-human powers, the appeal is the same process as for any of us, hoping for the universe to bend itself to our needs, just this once. These hopes do not necessarily involve cosmic events. An example from my own life is wanting the bus to come a few minutes late on days when I'm behind. In wanting circumstances to align with my own needs, I lose sight of reality and the chance to be fully alive in it.
· Staying the course. In the third temptation, Jesus is offered worldly glory – the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. But there was a cost. Jesus would have had to worship and adhere to the tempter's principles, giving up his own. For Jesus, this was a non-starter. For many of us, the trading of principles for rewards may seem practical, or inconsequential. The reality, though, is that trading one's principles away always leaves one less than fully alive.
Being fully alive means at least one more thing. It means practicing all of the above. It means enough experience choosing the right path that it becomes the automatic way to operate. Jesus, you see, did not have to ask the tempter for a day or two to think it through. Each time, he knew who he was and how he would manage himself. How does one get to this human Carnegie Hall? Practice.
Morning: How can I be more fully alive today? What could I practice?
Evening: What temptations did I notice today? What can I learn from how Jesus managed to stand up to them?