The Lenten season is a fresh invitation to explore again who God is, who we are, and what it means to be human. We begin by hearing the tragic story of the first humans in the book of Genesis. As Paul describes in Romans, our struggles started when our ancestors broke the bond of unity with God, sought self-sufficiency, and grew apart from their true purpose and identity. In Matthew’s Gospel, we see how Jesus resists the lure of living outside of unity with God. Jesus rejects false promises of possessions, power, and status. Instead, he puts his life in his Father’s hands. As our model for living as a fully human person, Jesus demonstrates that we are created to live in relationship with and trust in God, and in harmony with and for all of creation.
Being like God
The story of Adam and Eve, in Genesis 2 and 3, considers the origins of the trials and sufferings that we experience in human life. Part of the problem, the story suggests, is the human effort to be like God. Humans are therefore forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story is quite a contrast from Genesis 1, which proclaims that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and called to seek to become more like God. This creates a tension that points to a challenge in our life of faith: we are created both to embody God by developing our God-given human capacities, and also to live in radical trust and dependence on God. We are called to embrace and to live into this tension.
When the people of Israel were freed from Egypt, they were declared to be God’s chosen and beloved people. They wandered in the desert for forty years, often with great resistance, as God prepared them to enter the Promised Land.
Jesus’ forty days in the desert echoes their story, and offer a contrast. At his baptism, just before being led into the desert by the Spirit, Jesus was declared by a voice from the heavens to be God’s “beloved Son.” So, twice in today’s passage, he is lured with the words“If you are the Son of God . . .” The devil tempts Jesus to redefine his sonship of God on his own terms, instead of following his Father. Israel had failed to understand its identity as God’s people, but Jesus demonstrates how to live as God’s Beloved.
These contrasting stories of Israel and of Jesus present us with a challenge. We are regularly tempted to redefine our identity as Christians on our own terms, to make faith comfortable and non- threatening. This Lenten season can re-mind us to allow God to transform our minds and hearts on God’s terms.
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