The First Sunday in Lent - 13 March 2011

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Saint Mathew 4:1-11

BACKGROUND: The Books of Moses II
Robert Alter in his translation/commentary The Five Books of Moses makes a worthwhile observation about the nature of a book, specifically the Book of Genesis.  Books, as we know them – printed within covers, were unknown in ancient times.  Rather, it was the clay tablet of Mesopotamia, the papyrus of Egypt, or the parchment scroll of Israel that played the role of the book.  Scrolls could be easily added onto; a new series of parchments could be stitched into place, this making the “book” a more adaptable medium.  In our time, e-Books have restored this capacity to books.  Within the Genesis that we know (as well as some of the books that follow) we can detect “strands” or discrete editions of the stories of Genesis.  These reflect the efforts of priests and scribes to not only restore the scriptures of Judaism, but also to remind the people of their heritage following the Exile.  Thus we have at least four different documents: that can be found in Genesis: J whose distinctive mark is the use of the name JHWH for God, or E who used the name Elohim for God.  In addition there is P the “priestly document” written from that point of view.  None of this is certain, and like most scholarly hypotheses, is still debated. 

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.

Albrecht Dürer - Adam and Eve

In this account of “the Fall”, we see the hand of the J author.  The name “Lord God” uses “Lord - adonai” as a substitute for JHWH, the unpronounceable name for God, along with the word for “God”.  This story revolves around the human abilities tied to perception, and several of the senses are mentioned here.  The first verses (2:15-17) set up the scene, noting the tree and its fruit and the prohibitions that accompany it.  Now the reading adds in the actors: Adam, Eve, and “the serpent”.  The conversation is clever, full of puns, misstatements, and leading questions.  The real issues are what are we to think about seeing something, and in seeing it, know its true value.  Eve sees the fruit and desires it – in one action, one intellectual leap.  The seeing/knowing facility also applies to their own status.  Naked, they enter into the enterprise with the serpent, and leaving that enterprise suddenly see/know themselves as shamefully naked.  Yes, this is wisdom, just as the serpent promised.  The text wants us to wonder about the utility of such wisdom.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. Can you see evidence of the connectedness of “seeing” and “desiring” in your own life?
  2. Who has been a Satan for you?
  3. What were the results and how were they remedied?

Psalm 32 Beati quorum

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said," I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.

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."

Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
Marc Chagall - Job at Prayer
There are many levels to this psalm, which is described as a maskil (a joyous song  (Amos 5:13) , or in a related sense a psalm of instruction).  It is a wisdom psalm, and in that regard makes a perfect addition to the first reading, which is also about wisdom and knowledge.  The psalm is also about a confession made, and forgiveness received, which makes it even more appropriate for this Sunday.  The psalmist perceives and knows the sin that he has committed and then makes his confession.  He also knows the forgiveness that God freely offers and then rejoices in that knowledge.  The final verses are wisdom-like, offering instruction about “the way you should go.”

Breaking open Psalm 32:
1.     Have you ever been forgiven for something that truly made you sad?
2.     What was your reaction to hearing the words of forgiveness?
3.     What goes through your mind as we say the words of Confession and Absolution in the Liturgy?

Romans 5:12-19

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.
William Blake - Christ and Adam
Having received a background in Salvation History, by means of the first reading, we can begin to understand Paul’s argument in Romans.  Paul retells the story of Adam and sin, and then begins to relate this to the story of Jesus and righteousness.  Paul sets up opposites: Adam brings sin, Jesus brings forgiveness.
In each instance, the one’s act affects the many.  The effect may be evil, as in the case of Adam, or for good, as in the case of Jesus.  Through this device/equation, Paul trusts that the Romans will be able to carry in their own mind the situation of their humanity, and the gift of Jesus.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. In history, have you ever witnessed the action of an individual that affected many.
  2. Was the effect evil or good?
  3. How do your actions impact others?

Saint 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.

Juan de Flandes - The Temptation of Christ

Both Matthew and Luke share the particulars of this story, expanding on the 40-day fast and temptation in the desert in Mark.  The temptations are all related to power, and specifically to the messianic mission of Jesus.  The first, about the ordinary things of life, the second about the powers of miracles, and the third about secular power, are all not so much comments to us as individuals, but rather to us as the Church.  The underlying question is what does it mean to be the “Anointed One”, the Messiah?  Related to that is the question about what it means to be the Church, the community that follows the Messiah. The reference to the 40 days is helpful, connecting us to Noah’s experience, obedience, and salvation, to Israel’s discernment in the desert, and in our own time these 40 days of Lent.  St. Mark’s Satan wants to tempt Jesus away from his mission, and by extension to dissuade us from our own.  Is it enough to provide for ordinary things, but not to provide the Good News?  Is it enough to tempt God by means of holy words and prayers?  Is it enough to have enough power (money, position, influence) to do what we have been sent out to do?  Jesus counters with his only holy words, but most of all with his actions that do not give Satan suasion.  The angels see and understand.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is the role of the desert or wilderness in the Bible?
  2. How does Jesus use the wilderness?
  3. Have you been tempted like Jesus was – in each particularity?
  4. How did you respond?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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