Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
An essential aspect of Lent is our repentance from sin, and our readings today prompt us to reflect upon sin and the enemy. Our first reading today includes excerpts from the early chapters of Genesis. Whenever we come across readings from the first few chapters of Genesis, it’s worthwhile to take careful note.
While these creation stories are not, and were never meant to be, scientific accounts; they nevertheless speak truly about the essence of human nature and the relationships with have with one another, with God, and with creation.
Our passage today reminds us that we have an enemy: a deadly enemy who has sought our downfall from the very beginning. Once known as the angel Lucifer, which literally means, Lightbringer, he became known as the fallen angel, Satan, which means accuser or enemy.
In our passage he takes the form of a serpent. We heard: Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made. The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees of the garden?”
Immediately, a few things are made clear. The serpent is not on par with God. There is no true duality between good and evil, between God and the devil, between light and darkness. God is all powerful and is the Creator.
As we heard, Satan—or the serpent—is a creature. No creature can compare with the Creator. Nevertheless, the serpent was the most cunning of all creatures. Here, very insidiously, he enters into dialogue with the woman and immediately puts her on the defensive: “Did God really say you couldn’t eat any of this?”
By attacking the woman’s most cherished relationship—that with God—by attacking her values—the serpent cunningly provoked her into responding: “No… we can eat from any of these trees… just not that one. If we eat of it or even touch it, we could die.”
Thus far, the scene may seem fairly innocuous. That’s how deceptive and dangerous the evil one is. Before the woman even touched the forbidden fruit, she was perhaps already guilty of at least venial sin. Venial sin isn’t mortal sin, but it does lead to mortal sin. What is the error here? In short, the woman was speaking with the wrong man. She enters into dialogue with the one who is not her husband. That is the primordial sin of the woman.
As the woman is flirting with the literal devil, the serpent continues the dialogue. “No… you won’t die. God knows full well that the moment you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you’ll be like gods who know what is good and what is evil”.
The most deceptive lies are often seasoned with truth. Yes, in eating the forbidden fruit, the eyes of the man and woman would be opened... to a degree, and they would come to know some measure of good and evil, but this was not the way it should have happened.
There was another way. Once the man and woman had been exposed to temptation and evil, there could never be a going back to life as it was before. The instant that the man and woman were approached and tempted by the serpent, their original innocence was forever lost. But righteousness became possible.
They could have rejected temptation and the serpent. And their eyes would have been opened from that moment on. They would have learned the difference between good and evil, by having rejected evil and having chosen good—obedience to the Lord.
Someone who is afflicted with cancer may know a lot about it. But so does a doctor. Adam and Eve came to know sin by being afflicted with it, rather than by rejecting it. And that affliction lost them their immortality.
Beneath the seasoning of truth, the fundamental lie from the serpent was this: “You are not godlike. But if you eat that forbidden fruit, you can be”. It’s a lie that attacks one’s identity.
The man and the woman were already godlike. God himself had declared it so in the beginning: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Where was Adam up to this point? He was there—with the woman. That’s what the text reads: She took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. This is man’s primordial sin, before even eating the forbidden fruit: cowardice in the face of the enemy. The man was there but he wasn’t defending his wife from the enemy.
A man’s place is between his bride and the enemy. Very infrequently heard is the fourth verse of the Star-Spangled Banner. Unfortunate, because it’s so beautiful. Within it are those majestic phrases:
O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand, between their beloved home and the war’s desolation… then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: “In God is our trust”.
Some have speculated about what might have happened had Adam placed himself between the serpent and Eve and defended her. A battle would have ensued and the man would have been slain. After all, what man could survive a battle against an angel? What flesh could withstand an assault by a spirit?
But if this scene gives us any clue [gesturing to the Crucifix], we might speculate as to what could happen next? Perhaps God would have raised Adam from the dead, because God will not abandon the one who places his trust in him, even unto death. The man’s resurrected eyes would have been opened, and he would see everything clearly from a place of glory. He'd see beyond the veil of death and see reality as it truly is. And he would have been more than godlike. The divinity of God would flow through him, as it does the God-man.
In our gospel passage, the devil is up to his same old tricks. The tactics may be different, but the strategy is always the same. He attacks at the level of identity. The Son is one with the Father, always. In just the previous chapter of Matthew, the Father’s voice was heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
And twice, the devil began his temptation with: “If you are the Son of God…” “If you are the Son of God,” show me! That was the challenge.
But Jesus didn’t allow the evil one to undermine his identity. He shows us what that identity looks like even in the face of temptation. Jesus was steadfast against any assault against his true identity as the Son of God.
Our true identity is also that of being a child of God. We are already created in his image and likeness, and we are adopted into his family through the sacrament of baptism. This season of Lent is for us a time of rediscovering and reclaiming our true identity. God bless you.
Christ tempted by the devil, by John Ritto Penniman, 1818, oil on panel, Smithsonian American Art Museum [Public domain]