Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Adam and Eve’s choice
There days we can choose our GP and our Dentist, we can choose which consultant and which we’re referred to, we can try and choose our children’s schools, we can choose all manner of telephones (remember the days when you could have a black one a grey one?), we can choose which colour our car will be (remember Henry Ford said you can have any colour so long as it’s black?), we can choose whatever clothes want, we can choose any food at any time of year, we choose not whether we want a gadget but which one and how many.
Choice is almost a god in our world today, but choices have implications and consequences. Both our readings are about fundamental choices which shaped both individuals and the world. The choices in the Genesis story were complex. This story isn’t meant to be a literal piece of history or science, it’s certainly one of the last parts of the Hebrew Bible to have been written, and the account which makes most sense is that it was adopted by the people of Israel because it answered some of their profoundest questions about why things were as they were.
One of their pressing questions was why were people unable to live consistently good lives? How was it that two sons brought up in the same family, having been given the same love and same opportunities, turned out so differently? Is knowledge, which is ever-increasing, a good thing, and how does it relate to faith in God? The answer which they found shed most light on these questions was in a fateful choice. Adam and Eve, the representative man and woman, had made the choice. They were disobedient and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and became self aware.
In the story, sin entered human experience because of their choice. With sin came the power to go on choosing; sin gave humans a new freedom. But, according to Genesis, humans broke free and the result is the world as we know it: a world of love and hate, of good and bad people and societies, of ever-increasing knowledge and opportunities and their consequent blessings and problems.
For the people of Israel the story explained the ambiguities of daily experience. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus came to show humans how to use their freedom, to suggest some of the choices they might make, such as to use freedom wisely, to choose the truth of love over hate, respect for all people over enmity, equality over privilege, forgiveness over holding grudges, sharing over hoarding, generosity over meanness, unity over disunity… the freedom of the truth that all people are children of God. But that’s to rush ahead.
As we enter the period of Lent, the story of the temptations is not read to create guilt, it isn’t read to inhibit our humanity, it’s certainly not read to goad us into giving up that which is good in life. The period of Lent is about our need for space, spiritually and practically, to reflect on how God is, in us, around us. To pray, to study scripture, to listen to each other, so that we can be refreshed.
It’s a story of choices. Will Jesus choose the best way to use his freedom? There were choices to be made.
Many of his fellow citizens were poor and hungry. Should he begin by organising a supply of free food? Turning stone into bread wasn’t only the choice of looking to his own bodily comfort, but also to win people’s loyalty, or at least their allegiance with the sort of free gift and the gimmick. Later on Jesus did chose to feed crowds of hungry people, but there was never a hint of pressure on them to sign up because of the feeding.
Turning stone into bread doesn’t create community. It doesn’t help us think of our neighbour. Even in places of extreme poverty, aid agencies know that merely feeding people, though essential in the short-term, is second best to giving those people the opportunity to feed themselves with food, with education, with the space to be creative, to be human. Human beings need every word God speaks. The choice is about whether to live, spiritually and physically, in a community which, to be true, is centred on the mystery of God.
Magicians always drew a crowd. Should Jesus choose to astonish the crowd by attempting an incredible feat in the hope of being rescued by God? Jumping off temples is irresponsible, like drinking and driving, like thoughtless speech, like congregations burying their heads in the sand to hide from the need to grow spiritually and numerically. Both action and lack of action have consequences. These consequences have to be lived with. Jesus knew this when he prevented his disciples from fighting the soldiers who had come to arrest him. Jesus knew this as he stood silently before Pilate and when he asked John to look after his mother.
Not putting God to the test is the choice to trust God and to believe that God trusts us. The routine of church life, the habits of relationships, even choosing to decry the terrible state of the world, mean that we need this period of Lent to step aside and remember that God trusts us to be responsive to him, to each other, to be responsible citizens in society.
To choose not to turn stone into bread is to choose to move from individualism to community.
To choose not to test God is to choose to discover our potential to be responsible citizens.
As Jesus responds to the temptations, he’s choosing to say no to coercion, and yes to discovering the God who creates harmony, drawing all people to himself.
Jesus made his choices, and is remembered for the time he spent living his choices, but his life-style and teaching so riled and unsettled the leaders of the nation that they led to his arrest. Choices have consequences. The choices Jesus made when he was temped in the desert led to the cross.
We’re all free to make choices and in the ordinary round of daily life, as we work, go shopping, pay subscriptions, visit neighbours, we make many very ordinary choices. But Lent, could be a time for deeper reflection. We could review the choices we’ve made and also consider the bigger choices. How should our freedom, our knowledge of good and evil, be used?
If we’re committed to Christ, how should our commitment be expressed? Is there a direct line between our faith in Christ, and our political and social actions? In this country the church struggles to be heard among a distracted population – do we maintain Christ’s costly way of love, or do we look for short cuts to get quick, but superficial, results? If we’re not committed, is this the time to choose to make a commitment? Are we, committed and uncommitted, prepared to let Christ take us by the hand during Lent – not to make petty choices about eating chocolate or drinking wine – but to enter closely into his life portrayed in the Gospels, so that we can be more confident about how we use our freedom and that our priorities are his?
And someday, a child or man or woman who lives nearby, or may be far distant, might give thanks to God because in the mysterious way in which the consequences of our choices ripple out, their lives are blessed. Time is the ticking of a clock, and each tick is an opportunity to make a choice for God.