Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 ; Matthew 4:1-11
It’s interesting to me that the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness both begin with food – Adam and Eve tempted to eat fruit from the tree in the center of the garden, and Jesus tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. Doesn’t it seem strange that both of these events begin with a basic human need – hunger – and the response to that need? I think there’s a reason that food is front and center. We need it to live. Our bodies remind us when we’re hungry – from grumbling stomachs, to the hangry attitude some of us get, to the meltdowns in the grocery store aisle that I’ve decided are what happens when kids have a blood sugar drop from being over-hungry while surrounded by food.
We need food to live, and so it makes sense to me that we find out a lot about ourselves when food is involved. We learn a little bit about who we are – about our character – when food is on the line. Or, as Langdon Gilkey quoted from an opera, “For even saintly folks will act like sinners unless they have their customary dinners.”
The word that is translated as “tempt” or “test” in the passage we read about Jesus carries within it the idea of proving who someone is. The tests that Jesus is put through are not merely temptations, they are tests designed to show his character. The way he responded, the way he reacted in the face of these tests, proved Jesus to be who he said he was.
The way Adam and Eve responded to their temptation teaches us something about who they are, too – and about who we are, as people who are very much like them.
Adam and Eve responded to their character test with fear and doubt. Jesus responded with assurance and trust. As we face tests of our character – struggles in our paths – I wonder if we are more inclined to respond as Adam and Eve did, or if we might be inclined to respond like Christ.
In the garden, after God established boundaries and commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, the serpent did what the serpent did best – preyed upon fear to create doubt about God’s goodness. The serpent asked Eve, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” This seems like a strange question. The serpent must have heard what God had said to Adam and Eve, but rather than point out the injustice or folly of being barred from eating from one tree, the serpent asks an absurd question. “Did God make all these trees and tell you not to eat from any of them?” Genesis continues, “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”
Eve’s addition of “nor shall you touch it” always strikes me as a bit paranoid. God made plentiful trees and fruit. God freely gave fruit for the people to eat. God had established a world that would meet all of their needs. Only one tree was off limits. But, that boundary seemed to cause some anxiety or fear. The serpent latched onto that fear, and that fear was used to create doubt in God’s goodness.
The story continues: “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
The serpent’s craftiness was in latching onto the fear and uncertainty and twisting it to cast doubt on who God was. Fear was transformed into doubt about reality, as often continues to happen to this day. The serpent used fear to get Eve to question whether God truly cared for human beings, and whether God loved them enough to meet their most basic needs.
I’ve never been a big traveler, but I have noticed something about myself as I get older. When I was first old enough to choose where I went on a trip, or to have some say in my travel plans, it was exciting to me. I looked forward to going places and seeing new things. But, the older I get, the far less inclined I am to want to get out there and do something new. I think part of it, for me, is that the older I get, the more I know my own needs. I’ve learned that I don’t sleep very well when I’m not at home. I’ve learned that mishaps crop up that are outside of my control. I’ve learned that when we’ve forgotten to pack snacks in the car, we might have some cranky people in the car after a while.
When I think about all of those things, and I start to anticipate all my future needs that could possibly go unmet, it is tempting to skip the trip and stay home.
It starts out with a little kernel of fear – what if my most basic needs go unmet – and then it transforms into doubt – I know God promises to meet all my needs, but what if God doesn’t do it this time?
Lent is a journey that we are all invited to take together – a journey towards the cross, and a journey towards greater trust in God to supply all our needs. This is one reason why fasting has traditionally been a part of Lent. Fasting – choosing to go without – created greater awareness and space in our lives to see how God meets our daily needs.
Today, we are given the opportunity and invitation to step out the door and walk the journey with Jesus. But, before we can do that we have to confront the temptation to stay home. It’s easier to stay put. It’s easier to remain within our comfort zones and never step out into a world where unexpected things might happen. But, stepping out leads us closer to God, who will prove to us time and again that we will never be abandoned or forsaken by God. God will meet our needs, and God will walk alongside us on the road.
I recently came across the little book Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. This little book teaches the spiritual discipline of the Prayer of Examen, but it first begins with a story from World War II. The story as told in the beginning of the book says this:
During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, ‘Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.
Holding that bread was a tangible reminder that tomorrow’s needs would be met.
Holding that bread was a tangible reminder that they were safe and they were loved.
Holding that bread allowed them to release their fears, even if only for the night.
If I’m honest, I need that reminder sometimes, too, though I’ve never experienced anything as horrific as those sweet children had to endure. Even though I have never had a tangible reason to doubt that tomorrow’s needs will be met, I still find myself more inclined to respond to the invitation to take the journey with Jesus with fear and doubt rather than with assurance and trust.
I wonder if that is why Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” We need the reassurance every day that God will continue to meet our needs so that we will not be too afraid to go out and live generous and sacrificial lives. It’s interesting to note that the word “daily” in “give us this day our daily bread” has been a word that has been difficult to translate. It only occurs in this place in the New Testament. The most simple translation is “daily,” but scholars have wondered if it might mean “tomorrow’s” or even “everlasting.” When we pray for God to give us our daily bread, the words we are using could be translated “Give us this day tomorrow’s bread,” or perhaps, “Give us this day the bread that does not run out.” In this prayer, we are both asking and confessing that God is the source of our most basic needs. We are offering to God our worries and anxieties about tomorrow, so that we might be true to ourselves, and to who God has created us to be in every step of our daily journey.
I think this is one thing that is so beautiful about the practice of the daily Prayer of Examen. This 5 step prayer before bed is a way of giving thanks for the way God met our needs that day, for confessing our failings, and for resolving to live in a new way the next day. The five steps can be remembered as 5 R’s:
1) Relish the moments that went well and all of the gifts I have today.
2) Request the Spirit to lead me through my review of the day.
3) Review the day.
4) Repent of any mistakes or failures.
5) Resolve, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well1
This way of praying is a way of holding onto our spiritual bread that we may have assurance every day of our journey. We give thanks, we confess our sins, and we keep moving forward on the journey.
Jesus did not face the temptation to turn stones into bread – which must have been tempting at the end of a 40 day fast! – with fear and doubt about who God is. Instead, he knew that his life was in God’s hands. He responded to the tempter, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
This is one reason among so many that it is good for us to come together around the Lord’s Table. In this feast, we are given the opportunity to hold in our hands the bread that promises to us that God will meet our needs. We are given a taste of the kingdom that is to come, and the assurance that the road we are traveling is one that has been traveled already – by our Lord, and by the many faithful disciples who have gone before us.
We are invited to taste and see that it is true – that God will give us today our daily bread. And tomorrow’s bread. And the bread from heaven that will never run out – Jesus Christ our Lord.
Brothers and sisters, let’s dare to step out the door and take the journey. Let us cast off the fear and doubt that immobilizes us and run the race set before us. Let’s travel the road together, bearing each others’ burdens and holding each other up when we are weary.
I am reminded of the beautiful words of the Christmas carol “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” As we reflect on two verses from this carol together, may God remind us today – and always – that we may come to Christ and be fed.
The Tree of Life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.