(Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11 )
Let us pray: May the words of our mouths and the meditation in our hearts always be acceptable to You, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Two students sat across from one another during a recent test. One of them was considered to be the smartest in the class, the other usually scoring just in the average range on tests. When they took tests, the average student was always tempted to take quick glances across the table to cheat. On this particular day the average student gave into temptation. The teacher suspected the student of cheating and called both students in after school. The teacher said to the average student, “I think you cheated on your test.” To which the student asked “why?”. The teacher said, “Well, you both got the highest score.” “That’s just a coincidence,” the student responded. “Maybe,” the teacher replied, “but you both got one wrong.” “Coincidence,” the student said again. “Maybe,” the teacher replied, “but it’s the same one.” “Coincidence!” the student insisted. “Maybe,” the teacher said, “but this student wrote ‘I don’t know’ and you wrote ‘I don’t know either.’” As this story reminds us, we experience temptation early in our lives, and it continues through our life. In today’s readings, both in Genesis and Matthew, we hear stories of temptation. One of the differences between the two stories is the ending. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are tempted to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge and ultimately they do eat from the tree that was forbidden. Even though other fruits were available for sustenance, they cave to the temptation. In Matthew, Jesus is tempted, not once, but three times by the devil and each time he refuses to accept the temptation. He has spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. If ever there was a time to give in to temptation, it seems now would be the time. First he is tempted with food, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ Secondly he is tempted with security, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”. And finally, he is tempted with power, Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ And all three of these times of temptation, Jesus resisted. After spending 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was probably weak physically, after 40 days of prayer and meditation, he was spiritually very strong. In addition to temptation, each of these biblical stories is the beginning of a journey. Adam and Eve are just beginning their journey in life and the Garden of Eden. Jesus is just beginning a journey that will ultimately lead him to a cross. This will not be the end of temptation for either of them on the journey. What IS the difference in the way temptation was handled in Genesis and Matthew? We now are entering a journey through the Lenten season. We also are on a journey in our state regarding changes of policy through legislation. We have been and will continue to be tempted to do and say things contrary to our character. How will we handle temptation? What can we learn from Jesus to help us deal with the temptations we will face on our journey? Because Jesus was spiritually fit exiting the wilderness, I think he is better equipped to handle temptation. I would like to suggest that he carried four values or elements of character that helped him on his journey. I would suggest that if were to pack these four items on our journey, we too, may be able to handle the temptations we will face. First, Jesus spent much of his time in the wilderness in prayer. I’m sure he shared his concerns, he asked for guidance and strength, and then he listened. Yes, Jesus listened. Isn’t that why we should have silence in our prayer time, so that we have time to listen? Many of us, including me, have a great deal to tell God. So we drop off our concerns and are on our way, failing to take the time to listen for God’s response. So how long do we have to wait? Come on, can’t God get back to us in a timely manner? Of course, God is expected to respond quickly even though it took us forever to find the time for prayer. Secondly, Jesus had faith. Each time Jesus is tested by the devil, with the devil quoting scripture, Jesus responds with words of faith. His answers included, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God., Do not put the Lord your God to the test.,’ and ”Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Jesus relied on his faith to guide him. He did not avoid the devil, he did not try to be clever in return. What he did was rely on the faith he had in a God that had stood with him and by him throughout the challenges of his journey. Faith is not easy, because we want to believe that God has control over everything and won’t let us do anything wrong. But we also know that we have been given free will, and it is up to us to draw on our faith in the most difficult of times. Third, Jesus acts with integrity. Integrity is defined as adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character, honesty, the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished. There is nothing that impresses me more than people who act with integrity. Jesus is of the utmost character. Is he overly honest and moral? Probably for some people. But he just doesn’t get pushed outside of his ethical standards. In our Lenten journey and in our journeys of justice, it will be difficult, but we need to attempt to adhere to our moral and ethical principles. We need to be in a state of wholeness. We will be tempted to step outside our beliefs. We will be tempted to act outside our moral and ethical principles. It will be our faith and prayer that will help us follow through with integrity, as Jesus did. Finally, at the end of Jesus time in the wilderness, and just after being tempted, he returned to community. Not always to a community that was going to support him, but a community that would both challenge him and stand beside him. It is our community that both challenges and stands with us that will hold us accountable, in prayer, in our faith and with integrity. When we are alone, we hear only our voice and we need to hear the voice of others. We need to hear the voice of the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned. We need to be in community to feel the pulse of our community. As you remember, from the Genesis story, Adam and Eve did not have the same experience as Jesus. They were not in community, we don’t hear about them in prayer, we don’t hear about their faith or trust in God, so it would be difficult to act with integrity. Basically, they just can’t get outside themselves. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “These scriptures are about the temptation not to be a good human being. I think they are about the temptation not to be a human being at all. As far as I can tell, what Adam and Jesus are both tempted by is the chance to play God.” In the two cases, Jesus does not try to be God, but honor God, and Adam and Even don’t really even give God a thought. Our journeys are not easy. We don’t know the end of our journey story, as we know the end of Jesus journey. But we do have the ability to plan for our journey. We have the opportunity to pack for our journey. Why not, as we prepare, consider packing prayer, faith, integrity and community. Also, once we have packed them, it would certainly be a waste not to use them. Stephen Covey once said, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” If we are spiritual beings on a human journey, we will be tempted. Our challenge will be to draw from our spiritual being so that we won’t need to say, “I don’t know either,” but will say I know, and I know how to use what I packed. Amen.