February 10, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine
Gen. 2.15-17; 3.1-7; Matthew 4.1-11
In our readings from the Old Treatment reading and the Gospel, we get two stories with one common character. In our reading from Genesis, we find Satan in the form of a serpent, tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden. In our Gospel, we have Satan yet again, doing what he does best—tempting. But this time he is tempting Jesus.
What we have here is essentially the same story, retold. We have the tempter. We have the tempted. We have the temptations. But we have two very different results. We have the exactly opposite results.
The connection between Adam and Jesus is a long and interesting one. And it is one that has layers of meaning. I have always loved reading the traditions through the history of the Church of the connections between Adam and Jesus. For example, there is a tradition that believes that the tree from which Eve picked the fruit was later cut down and used as the wood for the cross on which Jesus died. There is also another tradition that I just read recently. There is a tradition that when Adam and Eve died, they were actually buried on Golgotha, the place where Jesus would eventually be crucified. In Jerusalem, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, there is a large rock beneath the Calvary Chapel. This rock is split and a read streak runs right through it. It is believed that, when Jesus died on the cross, this rock split. And his blood trickled down into the crack in the rock to the place where Adam and Eve were buried. As the blood touched their bones, this tradition states, Adam and Eve were finally restored to their former state though Christ. They were saved.
In fact, in some representations of the crucifixion, you can often see a skull at the base of the cross. The tradition is that this skull is actually the skull of Adam.
I love these traditional stories, not because I necessarily believe that they’re true. I love them because they help us to see that there are no loose ends in the story of God. When it comes to God, what seems like a failure—the fall of Adam and Eve—eventually becomes the greatest success of all—the refusal of Jesus to be tempted.
Still, we must deal with the issue of temptation and sin.They are the hinge events in both of the stories we hear this morning from scripture. Alexander Schmemann, the great Eastern Orthodox theologian, once said that there are two roots to all sin—pride and the flesh. If we look at what Satan offers both Adam and Jesus in today’s readings, we see that all the temptations can find their root mostly in the sin of pride. Adam and Eve, as they partake of the fruit, have forgotten about God and have placed themselves first. The eating of that fruit is all about them. They have placed themselves before God in their own existence.
And that’s what pride really is. It is the putting of ourselves before God. It is the misguided belief that everything is all about us. The world revolves around us. The universe exists to serve us. And the only humility we have is a false one.
When one allows one’s self to think along those lines, the fall that comes after it is a painful one. Adam and Eve’s was a Fall that still affects us. When Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, they are ashamed because they realize they are naked. They realize they have nothing. They realize that, by themselves and of themselves, they are nothing. This realization is that it is not all about them, after all. They have failed themselves and they have failed God in their pride.
But the amazing thing, if you notice, is that Adam and Eve still have not really learned their lesson. They leave the Garden in shame, but there is still a certain level of pride there. As they go, we don’t hear them wailing before God. We don’t see them turning to God in sorrow for what they have done. We don’t see them presenting themselves before God, broken and humbled, by what they have done. They never ask God for forgiveness. Instead, they leave in shame, but they leave to continue on in their pride.
From this story, we see that Satan knows perfectly how to appeal to humans. The doorway for Satan to enter into one’s life is through pride. Of course, in scripture, we find that Satan’s downfall came through pride as well. Lucifer wanted to be like God. And when he knew he couldn’t, he rebelled and fell.
We see him trying to use pride again in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he tries to appeal to Jesus’ pride. He knows that Jesus knows he is exactly who is. Satan knows that Jesus truly does have the power to reign and rule, that he has all the power in the world. And Satan further knows that if he could harness that power for himself—for evil—then he will have that power as well. Because Jesus was fully human, Satan knew that he could appeal to the pride all humans carry with them. But Jesus, because he, in addition to being fully human, was also fully God as well, refused to succumb to the sin of pride. In fact, because Jesus, fully God, came to us and became human like us, the ultimate sign of humility came among us.
So, these two stories speak in many ways to us, who are struggling in our own lives. As we hear these stories, we no doubt find ourselves relating fully to Adam and Eve. After all, like Adam and Eve, we find ourselves constantly tempted and constantly failing as they did. And also like them, we find that when we fail, when we fall, we oftentimes don’t’ turn again to God, asking God’s forgiveness in our lives.
We almost never are able to be, like Jesus, able to resist the temptations of pride and sin, especially when we are in vulnerable state. Jesus, after forty days of fasting, was certainly in a vulnerable place to be tempted. As we all enter the forty days of fasting in this season of Lent, we too need to be on guard. We too need to keep our eyes on Jesus—who, in addition to being our God, is also our companion in this earthly adventure we are having. We need to look to Jesus, the new Adam, the one who shows us that Adam’s fall—and Adam’s fall is essentially our fall as well—is not the end of the story.
Whatever failings Adam had were made right with Jesus. And, in the same way, whatever failings we make are ultimately made right in Jesus as well. Jesus has come among us to show up the right pathway. Jesus has come to us to lead us through our failings to a place in which we will succeed.
So, follow him in the path of your life, allowing him to lead you back to the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were forced to abandoned. Because it is only when we have abandoned pride in our lives—when we have shed concern for ourselves, when we have denied ourselves and disciplined ourselves to the point in which we realize it is not all about us at all—only then will we discover that the temptations that come to us will have no effect on us. Humility, which we should be cultivating and practicing during this season of Lent, should be what we are cultivating and practicing all our lives. Humility is the best safeguard against temptation.
So, as we move through the wasteland of Lent and throughout the rest of your lives, be firm and faithful in keeping Jesus as the goal of your life. Do not let those temptations of pride rule out in your life. In these days of Lent, in all your days, practice personal humility and spiritual fasting. Let Jesus set the standard in your life. And let him, as he did to Adam and Eve when he died on the cross, raise you up from the places you have fallen in your journey to him.