The first reading is chiefly the story of the temptation in the Garden of Eden often referred to as the Fall. It is a story that must have been told in various forms throughout the history of the descendants of Abraham. Other ancient cultures had similar stories, you may have heard of Pandora’s box, an ancient Greek story. These tales are about what it is to be human, about the pitfalls of human curiosity and about the cause of all the different evils in our world. They have all been told and retold time and again to different listeners and adapted appropriately, but all make much the same point. Our version in Genesis delightfully describes the human process of temptation; it starts, with what so often is the case, with a prohibition – “you mustn’t …” It proceeds with slightly changed interpretations of what is forbidden – “was it any of the trees in the garden?” and “You shall not eat nor even touch!” Then the victim of temptation just thinks the command is wrong and selfishly given – “the moment you eat it … you will be like gods!” We can all recognise this process and it should help us combat some of the temptations to selfishness that we have. Some Christians see this as an historical account and as the beginning of sin and death in our world which they call Original Sin. The story in Genesis goes on beyond what we hear today, with a glimmer of hope, saying: So the Lord God said to the snake,
‘Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’
The enmity and crushing is like the hope found in Pandora’s box, but is interpreted by Christians as referring to Mary and Jesus her offspring.
The second reading is Paul’s letter to the Romans which is like an exposition of his understanding of what Christianity is. And in the section we hear today, we have the very central notion of the impact that Christ has on the whole of the human race. Amongst the Jews there was a sense of the corporate nature of the nation and of the tribe and the family. It is found also among some peoples and groups nowadays. It is apparent mostly in the way that retaliation was brought by one tribe against all of another tribe if one of its members had offended someone from the first tribe. It is this solidarity that Paul recognises under the name of Adam (a word he uses like the word ‘man’ in the sentence “man has landed on the moon.”) It implies a, at least potential, transformation of everyone. All have sinned in Adam is how he might express it, but then goes on to say that all are saved in Christ. His sentences are complicated because he is anxious to stress the difference as well as the similarity between Christ and Adam, in this sense; he writes “but the gift considerately outweighed the fall.” We take from it the reversal of what we heard in the first reading. Now humanity is redeemed.
In our gospel today we have Matthew’s version of the temptations of Jesus in the desert after his Baptism by John. This links with the first reading. Here we have typical temptations. Firstly to use what power and skills one has entirely for one’s own benefit and gratification; secondly to show off and boast about oneself, in contrast to others you wish to outdo and dominate; and thirdly to gain great success in this world by ‘worshipping’ wealth, pleasure and the things of this world as secular. We are all subject to these kind of temptations and need the help of God (through others) to overcome them. These are typical of human temptations and in Luke’s telling of them he realises Jesus was tempted at other times as well, writing: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13).
See Jeffs Jottings – Make me aware!