Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
1st Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:12-19
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray that almost every Sunday. Somebody in the last couple of weeks mentioned to me that when they were a kid praying that, they pictured someone actually encroaching on someone else’s property, sneaking over a fence or through a yard. There is hardly anything that makes me squirm more in a movie than when people enter someone else’s house when they don’t have permission to. I guess it is because if they are going to put it in a movie, it is because those people are going to get caught. I do not enjoy that discomfort of knowing that something bad is going to happen, and not knowing when. If I am at home, I am usually shouting at the TV screen, “Get the heck out of there! What are you doing?!”
Think of Adam and Eve this morning trespassing in the garden of Eden. Here God has given them everything in this beautiful garden to enjoy and they are leaping the fence to touch and taste the one thing that God has forbidden them to. They go after the one thing they weren’t supposed to have. God gave them limits and they could not resist temptation to push those boundaries—to test God.
The reading from Romans this morning says, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all.” It doesn’t seem fair that just because Adam and Eve sinned and broke the rules that we should all face death for it. But who of us in the same situation, wouldn’t do exactly the same thing? This is a story about human nature to break the rules and to trespass the limits God has given us these limits for our own good.
I think sometimes we read this story and we are proud. Human curiosity and ingenuity always pushes us forward to achieve a better existence. If we weren’t so curious, we would have never invented so many life-saving medicines and technologies that make life better. But this story is about short-sightedness of human beings who want to know everything and have everything without realizing that God has set limits on us for a reason. Just like parents give children limits out of love, we need the limits that God gives us to make sure that the balance of life is protected, that all creation is respected as a part of the whole, so that we grow up not just to serve ourselves, but so that we can be in relationship with other people and part of something greater.
This isn’t just a story about what we would have done if we had been Adam or Eve, this is a story about what we do everyday, the choices we make every day that cross the limits of what God tells is healthy and good, to take what we don’t need and doesn’t belong to us, to try to play God. The death that comes is not a death sentence from God as punishment, it is the natural result of what happens when we don’t keep within limits.
There is a natural balanced order that God created that is good. It is an order in which each part of creation takes in just what it needs, bears fruit, plays its part in the circle of life, and gives back enrichment and life as much as it took. But Adam and Eve forgot that they were part of something greater and were driven by their selfishness. They started to see the tree, not as part of something greater, not just as God’s beautiful, amazing creation, not as something that gave life to many, but as an object that could serve them. It became not a subject to be in relationship with, but an object that they could use to benefit them.
It reminds me of the book by Shel Silverstien called “The Giving Tree.” I actually despise this book, even though some people say the tree does for us what Christ does. The boy and the tree grow up together and the tree loves the boy and the boy first takes an apple, then a branch, then boards, then its trunk until it has nothing left. That’s how Adam and Eve are treating this tree. My problem with “The Giving Tree” is that the boy just takes and takes. He is never grateful. He never realizes how he is hurting his friend. He never sees that this could be a mutually beneficial relationship, but only how the tree can serve him.
Adam and Eve didn’t realize that their welfare was tied in with the tree’s welfare. You can’t have one without the other. We think we are independent, but we are tied to every other life form on the planet in a complex web that only God can see clearly. When Adam and Eve trespassed on the tree, they were trespassing on their own welfare and livelihood and that is one way in which they became fallen, we are fallen and sinful and this results in our death by our own hand.
We, too, want what we can’t have or don’t have. I went with my dad to the Antique and Collectibles show at the Expo Center last weekend. I was at the same time filled with despair at all the completely useless stuff that was piled in two huge rooms, and fascinated and curious about all the pretty shining things that caught my eye and imagination. I really didn’t feel that I wanted any of it, but it was fun to look at and to imagine where it had come from. The despair was about all the stuff we want but don’t need, all the energy that went into making all this stuff and then later transporting it back and forth to shows like this one, that could instead have been used to feed people, replant trees, or do something that mattered at all. Then that feeling was compacted when I got home and I found out that the site of the Expo Center was once a Japanese Internment Camp that housed people for months until they could transport them to a bigger camp.
God has given us everything good in life, food, shelter, comfort, family, health and on an on. But the corporations and advertising tell us a different story—this is the real serpent reminding us that still there’s that one thing we don’t have yet, that tree whose fruits will make us stronger, prettier or more manly, give us the perfect smile, confidence, brains, and riches so that we can pursue other trees with even better fruits.
The saddest part comes next. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were in conversation with God, relating to God, spending time together in mutually beneficial relationship—don’t forget, God was lonely and wanted someone to relate to and now God seemed pretty pleased with this Creation and with this being made in God’s image. But now that the temptation has entered in, the human beings instead of talking to God, talk about God. God becomes not a subject, a trusted friend, but an object, someone you talk about, plot against, question the intentions of. They talk to the serpent about God. “God said, ‘you shall not eat it’” and the serpent gets them to question God’s intentions and judgment without consulting God at all. When the humans broke the limits and saw the tree as an object to be exploited, that was just the beginning. Now God, the primary relationship of goodness and life was objectified and thrown away for the hope of the more, more, more that seems to drive us.
Here comes Jesus facing temptation, in the Gospel. Here is God in human form, showing us that limits are good. He fasts. He goes hungry. He limits his food. He isn’t just a little hungry. He is famished. He is tempted to make the rocks into loaves of bread and feast. He replies, “Life is about more than food.” “We do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We can’t let our stomachs be the rulers of our lives. Jesus had the promise of God of life and that was the word he was feasting on that was satisfying to him. Jesus didn’t come to feed his own belly in the short-term, nor to win favor of the often hungry masses by feeding them like the Romans did, but to feed others who hunger not only with bread but the promise of life and relationship and interconnection that God sees in the big picture.
Jesus is tempted to cross the limits he took on as a human and leap from the top of the temple to test and see if God really loved him enough to send the angels to rescue him. Jesus refused to do that stunt there at the temple where all the religious leaders were gathered. He knew they would have seen and supported him. But he didn’t want to use them in that way to gain power, although it surely would have been easier. He didn’t want to work through the short-sighted religious establishment to bring his message of hope and love. He knew that the religious leaders were already so far off track, so far from God’s original intention, that the message would not make it through. It would be corrupted by those who wanted to use it to gain power for themselves. Religion is so easily twisted to help some and not others. It gets used to help some to keep taking and taking, trespassing on the lives of the less powerful, and others to suffer in poverty and illness until they died. Jesus’ message would not work this way either.
Finally, Jesus is tempted to seize all earthly kingdoms and use military force to gain power. He is tempted to trespass on everyone, everywhere and use bloodshed and might to make people join in healing, balanced relationship with everyone else. That just didn’t make sense to Jesus, either. Again, he resists the temptation.
It seems we are doomed to continue trespassing, wanting what is just beyond reach and trespassing on each other, on creation, and on God and causing death everywhere we go. But all is not lost. There is one who resisted temptation to give us new life, and that is Jesus. He is the one who offers us the grace of God that abounds for the many and in fact, for all. Through this gift of grace we are freed from the cycle of trespassing and healed from this tendency to objectify the other and given the chance to be again the people God made us to be, in harmony and relationship with God and all other living things. God made us for more than just for satisfying our bellies, getting attention, and wreaking violence upon each other and isn’t that good news. God made us in God’s image and gave us limits so that we would be able to share life and love in a web of beautiful relationships that make more abundant life for all.