Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7
“Come let us worship the Lord
who for our sake endured
temptation and suffering.”
Every morning during Lent the breviary begins with these word. Temptation and suffering. Two words that define what it means to be human. Two words that characterize the human condition. The two words that tell us how Jesus was like us and also unlike us.
Though the word temptation generally suggests something negative, its Latin, Hebrew, and Greek roots are neutral and suggest “trying” “testing,” or “proving.” That is what satan did with Jesus in today’s Gospel, he tested his fidelity, he tested his resolve, and thus proved his fidelity to the Father. That is what temptation does to us. It tests our fidelity to God.
The first reading, one of the most familiar of all stories in the Old Testament, recounts the fall. Adam and Eve were put to the test. Did they trust God or did they not? The apple is a good metaphor for sin and for the ease with which we sin. Most sins are acts we perform impulsively, casually, and quickly. Unlike an orange, a banana, a mango or most other fruits that one might find in a garden, an apple is quick, easy and convenient. No need to peel, cut, or anything else. No one just bites into a pineapple or a melon. But simply grab an apple and feast. When done toss the core into a bush. The tragedy in the story of Adam and Eve is that they weren’t even hungry. Their sin was so banal as to make it laughable. Most of our sins are committed under equally banal circumstances. But they are not a laughing matter.
Some sins require exquisite planning. Adultery demands complicated logistics and perhaps a second secret cell phone. Robbing a bank should never be done on impulse. Selling heroin or crack requires building a clientele, negotiating with suppliers and avoiding police. These sins are in their own category of intention. Our day-to-day challenge isn't to avoid these intentionally planned sins. Our challenge is avoiding the sins that require no planning, the kind of sins that result from unthinking responses to the challenges of daily life.
How often do we sin simply because the opportunity is there? How often do we sin because we want it? How often is sin driven by the unfortunate 1960’s motto "If it feels good do it."? It wasn’t an apple that did mankind in. It was human freedom, it was free will, and Adam and Eve's inability to control it. It is our story.
"Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves."
The last verses tell us of the personal cost of sin: shame and embarrassment. Shame and embarrassment are particularly acute if we’re caught in the sin. Being caught in sin is never pleasant. The shame tells us what it means to be a responsible adult. The embarrassment hammers home the realization that we are sinners. We are sinners because we are free. We are free to choose and to follow through on that choice. Adam and Eve were free. Among all living creatures only humans are free. Only humans were given insight and the ability to plan far into the future. Only humans can use the knowledge of potential outcomes of a chosen act which is a significant dimension of true freedom. We are free rather prisoners of the instincts that drive all lower animals. How we manage that freedom is tested on a daily basis.
Human freedom is generally misunderstood. It is not a freedom from. Human freedom is not freedom from restrictions, rules, and responsibility. Human freedom is freedom for. It is the freedom of choice, even if we choose wrongly. Freedom is not the opportunity to choose anything whatsoever. Dogs and monkeys do that. Freedom is not the ability to adopt an individual idiosyncratic attitude towards this or that. Human freedom is the freedom of self-understanding. Human freedom is the possibility of saying yes or no to oneself. Human freedom is the ability to decide for or against oneself.
Human freedom, and only human freedom, is the opportunity to choose or to reject sin. Adam and Eve had that choice. They acted on that choice. It was the wrong choice but they were, and remained, free. We have the same freedom. While fully God Jesus was also fully man and had the same freedom to choose.
Each of the temptations satan presented to Jesus were tests of his willingness to rely on God. Each of the temptations tested Jesus’ obedience to his Father. Unlike Adam who was disobedient to God’s command Jesus was obedient to his Father’s will; obedient even to accepting death on the cross.
The temptations satan dangled in front of Jesus, who was hungry from fasting, who was tired from prayer, and who was disoriented from being in the desert, are the same ones that dance in front of our eyes when we are hungry, tired, and disoriented; when we are dissatisfied with the status quo.
In the first test satan tempts a hungry Jesus with bread. “C’mon, take care of yourself. You can be self-sufficient. Just do it.” Its more than bread here. The temptation to self-sufficiency, to taking care of number one, and number one only, looms large in our lives. The second temptation is to put God to the test. “Hey Jesus, it’s a quid pro quo. You jump and the Father saves you. If not . . . too bad.” God is not a divine marionetteer who pulls our strings to make us dance. Nor is God a marionette that we control. “If that happens I will no longer believe in God.” That is the type of thought process characteristic of a three year-old. The third temptation is the classic Faustian bargain. “Sell your soul. Worship me and look at the power I will give you.” Power. Prestige. Money. Control. These idols have replaced God in too many lives. With His replies to satan, all of which are direct quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy, Jesus chose to be faithful and obedient to God the Father. And in so doing made it possible for us to imitate Him.
The responsorial psalm is Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm known as the Miserere. It is recited every Friday morning in the breviary. Read it at home. It is short. Let the words sink in. Let it speak to you.
"I acknowledge my offense."
"A clean heart create for me O God."
"Give me back the joy of your salvation."
"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise."
“Come let us worship the Lord who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.”
Fr. Jack, SJ, MD