The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellevue
First Sunday in Lent (A), Mar 1 2020
Oh the crafty serpent. Oh that foolish woman! Or, maybe not…
Rabbis have been expanding on scripture, musing and arguing about it for generations and part of that musing is about this story in Genesis. We generally read it this way: God makes a perfect creation, the snake comes along working against God (sometimes conflated with a devil character), the evil woman ruins EVERYTHING and here we are.
Rabbi friends introduced me to a different way to view this tale, not as literal history (it clearly isn’t), but as an allegory. Humans in the garden are like babes in a cradle, they are safe and cared for. But they aren’t meant to stay there forever, that would be silly and stunting.
The garden is the infancy of our species, when we eat and grow and are cared for in every way by our parent.
Along comes the snake, that’s curiosity and wonder, the first differentiation between child and parent (think the terrible twos). And Eve takes the first step out of the cradle, she drags Adam (who is perfectly comfortable being bottle fed apparently) with her out of the nursery and into our species’ next step.
In this way of looking at the story God always intended for us to eat from the tree and leave the nursery of the garden, its just that we were impatient and did it before God felt we were ready. (Which any parent will tell you is pretty much how raising children goes.)
And I think that understanding shines new light on Jesus’ “temptation” in the wilderness.
(The serpent is never named as satan, but the two are often conflated, keep that in mind.) Jesus meets Satan, who remember works for God. Satan is the court attorney, he is responsible for accusing mortals of crimes, trying cases, doing all the things we’d expect of an attorney. And here he comes to cross examine Jesus. He comes to find out if Jesus is really ready.
Jesus has been baptized, he’s heard that he is the Son of God, that God is pleased with him. (God’s pleasure comes before he’s done anything, or proved anything, also worth noting.) But God is perhaps a slightly more experienced parent by now.
And so, before he can begin his active ministry Jesus’ maturity gets tested. Is he still a spiritual and emotional toddler? Or does he have the maturity that the next few years will require?
We’re here of course, because he does.
If God’s original intention was to raise children to maturity then Jesus gives us a glimpse of what God is hoping for. Jesus rejects immediate gratification (though he will later create miraculous bread to feed others, making food miraculously isn’t the problem). He refuses to coerce God. And he is not swayed by an opportunity to gain coercive power and control over his fellow beings.
There are many ways of understanding Jesus’ ministry of course but this Sunday I am most curious about Jesus as big brother, Jesus as the one we are to look up to, emulate, and follow his example.
If Eden was our nursery, we are now what? Children perhaps, as a race. Still painting lines down the middle of our rooms, still hoarding toys and fighting over free gifts.
I remember when I was in college the Episcopal priest back home seemed to flame out constantly. He spent all his time fighting with the congregation, he ruined his marriage, had an affair with a parishioner, he burned all his bridges. I was flabbergasted by his behavior, but my Mother replied: “Just because we get older, doesn’t mean we grow up.”
I would like to suggest that our job, as individuals and as a species, is to grow up.
To grow more and more into God’s dream for us, into our full humanity. For Christians that image is Jesus. Lent is our own wilderness time, 40 days to look within, to test ourselves and maybe to find those places where we wouldn’t pass the Divine Court’s Maturity Test.
May we have Eve’s curiosity this Lent, utterly unwilling to stay as we are.
May we have the grace of God as we examine our lives. That we might see ourselves with God’s generous eyes, and forgive ourselves with God’s generous love.
May we have the bravery of Mary singing her song of hope and change.
May we be as creative and hope filled as Mary Magdalene and the other apostles.
And may our Lent be a time of holy growing up.