A Reading from the Book of Genesis (2:15-17, 3:1-7)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
(Psalm refrain to be sung by soloist
and repeated by all)
1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8 You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you.”
11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
Refrain : Roy James Stewart
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (5:12-19)
Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (4:1-11)
After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Every year on this First Sunday in Lent, we hear one of the three gospel accounts of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness: either Mark’s short and succinct version or one of the extended, “three-temptations” versions found in Matthew and Luke. From our point of view, the “forty days” of the story are obviously meant to tie in with the forty days of Lent that we have just begun. But, at a deeper and more ancient level, the mention of the forty days evokes multiple layers of the larger biblical story. There are the reported forty days of Noah’s flood, the forty days that Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai, and the forty days that Elijah is said to have journeyed to the mountain of God.
But central to Matthew’s narrative is the forty years that the Israelites are said to have journeyed in the wilderness from the day that they left Sinai until the day that they entered the Promised Land. It was during those forty years that they faced a series of temptations, and repeatedly failed every test. Matthew portrays Jesus as facing comparable tests, but remaining faithful through all of them.
As varied as Israel’s temptations were, and as varied as Jesus’ three temptations were, there is one unifying theme. Israel is described as God’s son, and the question in each of its tests was whether or not Israel was going to live as God’s son, whether or not it was going to be true to its core identity. In the gospel verse immediately before today’s reading begins (3:17), Jesus, who has just been baptized, listens as a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus, too, is God’s Son, and the question that he has to answer by his choices is whether or not he is going to live as God’s son, whether or not he is going to be true to his core identity.
God’s declaration to Jesus, at least in Matthew’s version of the baptism story, seems to have been something that could be heard by everybody there, including presumably the devil. And the tempter does not challenge that identity directly, but assumes it. The word translated as “if” in this passage can sometimes imply a positive assumption: not just “if you are God’s Son,” but “since you are God’s Son” or “in light of the fact that you are God’s Son.”
“Since you are God’s Son – and we just heard God’s voice telling us that — use your power, not only to provide food for others, but to make life comfortable for yourself: turn these stones into bread.” “Since you are God’s Son, use your position to gain a little glory for yourself; after all, it could only help your cause.” “Since you are God’s Son, take advantage of the opportunity to assert your rightful rule over all the world and everything in it.” Each temptation sounds perfectly reasonable. Jesus is never asked to deny his identity as God’s son, but only to redefine it a bit: to move away from a complete giving of himself, a complete emptying of himself for the sake of others and for the sake of the world, and to ask, just a little “What’s in it for me?
The three temptations do not seem to be a direct rejection of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, but rather enticements to compromise that identity: to “misdirect it,” as New Testament scholar, Craig Evans puts it (Matthew, p. 80), and, in doing so, to “render it powerless and ineffective.”
The tempters’ suggestions seem sensible enough. In fact, there’s a lot to be said in their favor, and Jesus could easily have rationalized his acceptance of the proposals. There was only one thing wrong with them: they did not conform to who he was; they weren’t compatible with what God was calling him to do; they didn’t comport with the life for which God had chosen him. In short, they weren’t in keeping with his identity, with who God had made him.
The season of Lent has been described and observed in many ways. For those who are just now coming to the Christian faith and are intending to be baptized at Easter, it is a very special time of preparation. But for those of us who are already baptized, who are already members of the Body of Christ, Lent poses one fundamental question. It is the same question that the Israelites faced during their forty years in the wilderness long ago. It is the same question that Jesus faced during his forty days in the wilderness. It is the question: “You, too, are sons and daughters of God. Are you going to be true? Are you going to be faithful to who you are? Are you going to live in accordance with your God-given identity?”
Like the Israelites and like Jesus, our real temptation is not that of rejecting outright our identity as children of God. Our real temptation is one of compromising it to such an extent that we render it powerless and ineffective. “Yes, I believe that I am a child of God, called to share all that I have and all that I am with those in need; but those people haven’t worked as hard as I have. They haven’t earned these things like I did. I deserve to keep them for myself.” “Yes, I believe that I am a child of God, called to care for others with the compassion that God shows to all, but I have a right to use my time doing the things that I choose to do. I’m sure that somebody else will take care of those people – at least somebody else should.” In all sorts of creative ways, we can manage to affirm that we are children of God, called to do what God does, but also, at the same time, to rationalize our way out of actually doing it. We are always too ready to water it down. And in the act of making those excuses, we act much more like the Israelites in their times of temptation than like Jesus in his. We affirm our identity, but fail to live up to it.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written about our identity as children of God. He says: “One clue to our identity is this, the idea of mirroring God. We have to find what is our particular way of playing back to God [God’s] self-sharing, self-losing care and compassion, the love of which [God] speaks and calls in the first place.”
As we enter into this season of Lent, the story of Israel and the story of Jesus call us to remember: to remember who we are, to remember that we are children of God, called to live God’s own “self-sharing, self-losing care and compassion.” God never calls us to be something that we are not. But God does call us to be who we are: to recognize and affirm what it is that God has done for us and who it is that God has made us, and to live our lives in accordance with that identity.