13 March/Lent 1 A - Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7/Matthew 4:1-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peters’ Episcopal Church at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Where Are You? Repent and Come Home!
What is perhaps most interesting in our episodes from Genesis and Matthew is what is missing. Don’t get me wrong, what is there is important, if somewhat overly familiar to the point that we tend to think we know what these stories are all about without really spending time with them.
But let’s begin with what is here. In Matthew’s story of Jesus testing his new vocation as God’s Beloved Son in the wilderness, we are meant to hear some important resonances. We are meant to recall, for instance, that Moses sat atop Mount Sinai, fasting for forty days and forty nights waiting upon God to deliver what would become the basis for an eternal relationship with God – a covenant based in some pronouncements meant to determine our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. The takeaway here: Jesus is the new Moses.
Or, if we recombine this story with the story that immediately precedes this one, our Lord’s baptism, this “new Moses” is in fact the Beloved Son of God who will in every way embody those pronouncements from Sinai in all that he says and does.
That is, Jesus sets the example for how we are meant to fulfill our Baptismal Promise that all that we say and all that we do will proclaim the good news of God in Christ!
And just as Moses and the people of God were tested in the wilderness, so Jesus is tested – perhaps a better word than “tempted” under the circumstances here. When our translators render this antagonist “the tempter” rather than "devil" it is much closer to the Greek diabolos which means something more like “the slanderer." than usual translation "devil.”
So after forty days of no food or drink, is Jesus the anointed one of God, God’s Beloved Son, ready to go to work? Responding to each test to do something spectacular, something super-hero-like, and to make the ultimate power grab, Jesus quotes Moses’ famous sermon we know as Deuteronomy three times: “You cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut 8:3)”; “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Deut 6:16)”; “The Lord your God shall you worship, and God alone shall you serve (Deut 6:13).”
Evidently being God has little or nothing to do with power and spectacular displays such as turning stones into bread – we are meant to recall that Jesus teaches us to rely on bread that is given daily, just as Moses and the people did in that first wilderness.
That is, Jesus appears to pass the test – the SAT’s or Entrance Exam to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Which, after being waited upon by angels (and wouldn’t we all like to have a bit more detail on what that was like!) he sets out to proclaim to one and all, “Repent, for kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That is the part that is missing, and which I consider to be the real punch line here for the first Sunday of Lent.
To repent means to turn – the idea is that God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. It is we who have strayed from God’s ways as articulated way back on Mount Sinai like lost sheep, as Psalm 119 would have it. So to turn or return to God is the order of the day and the focus of Lent. It is the only way to get home again, as the first man and woman would learn the hard way in the garden.
The Garden – another story we think we know all too well. It is easy to miss, however, that the central problem here is not the disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit, as problematic as that is. The real problem is believing what I call The Big Lie – when the tempter says, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God…”
It’s the same lie the tempter offers Jesus in the wilderness over and over, “Do this, or this, or this and you will be like God.” A funny thing to say to someone who already is God!
And in the garden the sin, if you will, is believing they “will be like God.” That is to forget who they are and forget who we are – imago Dei, created in the image of God, male and female God created us to be like God.
So as usual, the tempter does not have much to offer except a momentary case of amnesia.
But again, what is perhaps the punch line for this story comes after they sew some clothes to become the prototypical Puritans and the origin of species homo protestantorius. After joining the Garment Workers guild, they can hear the footsteps of God in the garden in the cool of the evening. Ashamed of having believed the lie, they hide – or so they think.
Surely any creature created to be like God knows that you cannot hide from God. Nevertheless, they attempt to hide. Displaying God’s more playful side, God goes along with their game and says, “Where are you?”
Which is perhaps the central question we are meant to consider for the next forty day: Where are you? God really wants to know. God really wants you to come home. God really wants you to repent and return to God. And it may begin with a simple, “Here I am, Lord,” another one-liner that appears and reappears throughout the entire sweep of the Biblical narrative.
For when we say, “Here I am, Lord,” we join with all those who have gone before us in getting involved with God’s work in God’s world on behalf of all God’s people and creatures, including the very earth itself – from which the first man is named, Adam from the Hebrew adamah, which means “ground” or “earth.” As we recalled on Ash Wednesday, God takes up a handful of dust from the ground, breathes his breath and spirit into the dust, and here we are – imago Dei, and by our baptism, God’s Beloved with whom God is pleased. Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return - adamah.
So this Lent take some time to come up with an answer to God’s primary question, “Where are you?” For until we know where we are, it is hard to know which way to turn to go home to God – the God who comes to us wherever we are, seeking us, so that he can love us and take us home.