Félix Joseph Barrias’ 1860 painting The Temptation of Christ by the Devil. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Finding our way back to Eden

  • February 23, 2020

First Sunday of Lent, March 1 (Year A) Genesis 2:7-9, 16-18, 25, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

What is the root sin of humanity? Despite the many likely candidates, there is but one: self. 

With the self as the axis and centre of humanity’s universe, a long parade of sin begins its relentless march through history. The next step is playing God, without concern for others, the negative consequences or the actual will of God. 

The Garden of Eden account is a symbolic story, part of a common tradition in the ancient world ascribing human sin and suffering to the misdeeds of some primal ancestor. In the story, it was after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden that violence, murder and injustice began to spread like a contagion throughout the Earth. The deep theological truth of the story — as opposed to a literal interpretation — is that when we disobey God disaster follows. We have no one to blame but ourselves. 

As people turn away from God, they build a collective consciousness resistant and at times even opposed to God. The world that we see in the media each day and even experience personally at times is the unhappy and tragic result. 

We are not helpless. We have our faith, we have grace and, if we choose to listen to its promptings, the Spirit. The journey back to the harmony and peace of the garden begins with turning away from self and towards God and service to others.

Paul highlighted the way in which Jesus reversed the downward spiral that followed humanity’s rupture with God. Death — separation from God — spread throughout the human race, taking its deadly and destructive toll. 

Just as Adam represents all humanity in its disobedience, Jesus took the role of the one individual totally at one with God. He lived as we are to live, and He enables us to regain our essential goodness and walk with God.

The righteousness of Jesus is illustrated in the drama of the temptations in the desert. After He had been baptized and empowered, Jesus had to be tested. The devil presented to Him the same temptations to which the Israelites had succumbed in the wilderness. The thread that runs through the temptations is a lack of trust in God and a desire to take control of one’s life. 

The first temptation was the fear of lacking life’s essentials. Without food we cannot survive and the devil tried to get Jesus to use His own power to turn stones into bread. Jesus refused to be baited. He quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, insisting that God is the sole provider and source of our sustenance. 

The devil followed this test by urging Jesus to throw Himself down from the parapet of the temple. Satan referred to Psalm 91:11-12 to reassure Jesus that angels would take care of Him and see that He came to no harm. 

People want proof of God’s love and care, and without it, they frequently allow fear and doubt to overwhelm them. Deuteronomy 6:16 was Jesus’ reply — God is not to be put to the test — God doesn’t have to prove anything to us. 

The final temptation was supposed to be the magic bullet. The devil offered Him power and dominion over others — all the kingdoms of the world — if only Jesus would worship him and no longer rely on God. 

We all feel limited, helpless and insignificant at times. Much strife and negativity results from individuals seeking glory and dominion over others. Jesus put an end to their Scriptural fencing match with Deuteronomy 6:13: only God alone is to be worshipped. The devil lost and Jesus won, not only for Himself but for us. Each day we stand in Eden, the desert of Exodus and the wilderness of Jesus’ temptations. We are tested and given opportunities to draw closer to the divine source. We only pass the test when we affirm in thought and deed that God is our provider, protector and sole object of our allegiance and worship, and that nothing can shake our trust. 

Our goal is to live with a deep understanding of the oneness of God and humanity. Through love, service and seeking the will of God, we free ourselves from fear, greed, pride, resentment and hatred. 

Our goal is to live in harmony with God, all peoples and our common home the Earth — a return to Eden.