Sunday, March 5, 2017

Risky Business

   First Sunday of Lent   A 

Q.  When is insurance first mentioned in the Bible?
A.  The day Adam and Eve realized they need more “coverage”!

(Sorry for such a bad joke…but most of the Adam and Eve jokes I could find were not appropriate to share in church.)

Was it all just a set up?  No, not the way Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.  I mean the whole arrangement of having our first parents in the garden with the forbidden fruit in the first place.  Knowing what God knows—which includes the future in its fullness—were the first man and woman set up to fall?  Was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil nothing other than a trap? 

No, God didn’t set out to trap us.  (If that were in fact the case, who’d want to believe in a god like that?)  So why put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and give them this solitary rule?

When God made the human race in his own image and likeness, he invested us with many of his own divine characteristics.  Among them was freedom.  God created us with free will.  You see, God made the human race out of love.  And God made us for love: to experience his love, and to love him in return.  But love cannot be forced; to be true, it must be free.  I mean no offence when I say it, but your dog or your cat does not love you.  Sure, it wags its tail or rubs up against your leg…but that’s just because it knows who controls access to the food.  Animals live by their instincts, not free will.  And neither can a computer love you.  Robots may appear human, but they act according to their programming, not freedom.

God didn’t make us to be puppets, with him pulling all the strings.  If we were going to be able to love, we had to be free: free to choose to love God, to trust him, to obey him.  But that came with a huge risk: that we might choose the opposite.  God was more than willing to take the chance.  And so he gives Adam and Eve a single law—not to trip them up, but to give them the necessary space to exercise their freedom.  The forbidden fruit was intended to provide us with a way to prove our love for God—to choose against sin and for God.

We sadly know all too well how things went from there—not just because we've read the first pages of the Bible, but because we see this same story play out time and time again.

While we find the first man in a garden, this Sunday we encounter another man in the desert.  Both Adam and Jesus, in rather unique fashion, can call God their “father.”  And both are tempted by food—although in neither case is food the real focus of the temptation, but merely the bait employed by the evil one. 

Jesus faces temptation in the desert for much the same reason Adam and Eve did in Eden.  The devil is trying to sway him from his true mission and real identity—trying to get him to doubt God’s love and withhold his own.   If Jesus would fall to temptations to self-interest, it would break his bond of love with us, for he’s come on the most selfless of missions: not to be served (as he tells us elsewhere), but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).  If Jesus would fall into disobedience of the divine will, it would break his bond of love with the Father, with whom the Son is perfectly one.

The responses of Adam and Jesus, however, couldn’t be any more different: by the disobedience of one man, we were made sinners, sharing his condemnation and subject to death; but by the obedience of the other, we are given the gift of righteousness, sharing in his victory and restored to life.

My prayers were answered last evening when I saw an insurance agent at Mass.  Since I started things out with insurance, I asked him, “If God were to come to you with his plan to create Adam and Eve, and knowing the great risks involved, would you have written him a policy?”  The guy’s response: “I’d have given them my coat”…providing a far more literal sort of needed “coverage” than I expected!

It was risky business, indeed, when God gave the human race free will.  Yet his concern wasn’t with liability, but with love.  God found it more than worth the risk.

In light of all this, and while it’s still so early in the season, now’s the right time to evaluate what we’ve chosen to do for Lent.  Whether we’re giving something up, or have chosen to do something extra, it’s worth considering: Is this going to help me learn how to use my freedom as God originally intended, to realign my will with his?  Is it providing me with a real way to prove my love?  That, after all, is really the whole point, isn’t it?

About forty days from now, we’ll recall how the man we see in the desert today went to the Cross in perfect obedience and love—though sinless, accepting the death due to our transgressions.  But on the third day, we’ll find him walking about alive again—not by coincidence, in a garden, for his death and resurrection return us to paradise.

May our Lenten disciplines prepare us well to meet him there.

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