GN 2:7-9; 3:1-7
PS 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
I have always found the prosperity gospel pretty perplexing for a religion that places the crucifixion at the center of the faith. How can we conclude that a God who leads his own son through the passion and cross, and tells us to take us our own crosses and follow, wants us to be rich and comfortable. A more pressing theological concern is how we can conclude the God of the cross wants us to be happy at all? How do we know this God will care for us? Why should we trust him?
Our gospel for the first Sunday of Lent introduces this question through the temptations Jesus experiences in the desert. The devil presents the Son of God with three different challenges:
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
The devil is presenting fundamental challenges to God’s sovereignty over the world to Jesus, and it is these fundamental challenges that most test our obedience. Whether God will provide for us, keep us safe, and whether God is really in control are at the heart of our human experience. The temptation is to become wise in the ways of the world—to take care of ourselves according to the standards of human wisdom: to amass for ourselves wealth and comfort, security and control. Essentially, as humans, we are tempted to be the gods of our own life.
The temptation of Adam in paradise is at its core this fundamental temptation. Satan whispers something similar to our first parents that we whispers to Jesus: God doesn’t care for you. God wants to trick you. God isn’t really in control.
The New Man shows us what true hope and confidence in God look like, who, through his obedience, is able to conquer the persuasive power of Satan in an initial act whose final implications will only be seen at the empty tomb. Not only does this story reveal in Matthew’s gospel who the Son of God is, but it also reveals what humanity is made for—to trust God over worldly wisdom and to allow the hope of resurrection illuminate our experiences of insecurity and doubt.
The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving help us to develop the habits of hope and trust that are so central to this gospel story. Lent trains us to become less concerned with making ourselves strong according to the world’s standards (amassing wealth, say, or feeding our desires with easy comforts) and to instead more consciously turn to God in the hope that God will provide, that God will send his angels to minister to us as God does God’s own Son. Lent teaches us that obedience to God, while it may seem foolish, is not foolish at all because God is trustworthy. God is good. And the crosses that God gives us to carry are ultimately our signs of victory.