Genesis 2, 7-9; 3, 1-7 + Psalm 51 + Romans 5, 12-19 + Matthew 4, 1-11
It is all about listening and who you listen to. Paul is the clue to this today as he pulls the Genesis and Matthew texts together speaking to the Romans about obedience. That word itself describes the ability to listen to what is said. I guess the root of the problem is that we don’t like to listen, we just like to talk. Too many of us like the sound of our own voices, which is a dangerous thing for someone to say who is preaching, but it is the truth! If I had not spent more time listening to the Word of God than I am speaking right now, I ought to sit down and be quiet. Listening is the issue which is why I think St John begins his Gospel with that deeply theological reflection on the “Word” made flesh. The Incarnation is about God speaking, and so is creation. Remember how God creates in Genesis. It says: “God said: Let there be Light.” “Let there be dry land.” It’s always about speaking on God’s part, but for anything to happen, there must be listening which is the obedience.
It occurs to me that the trouble for Adam and Eve is rooted in their listening habits. The Genesis story tells us that God was with them and they could walk and talk with God in this “garden.” But instead of a conversation with God, they talk with a serpent and with one another failing to “listen” to God: disobedience! We see the same thing unfolding with the Israelites in the desert. When Moses listens to God, and the People of Israel listen to Moses they make progress. When they listen to each other mumbling and grumbling, when they listen to Aaron (who never listens to God) there is trouble. We all have our own stories about that when it comes to listening to Mom and Dad. I can still hear their voices in my memory. “Listen to me!” was their threatening demand, and when I did, I was safe!
Jesus listens to the Father. He is attentive to the Father’s will. Jesus is “obedient” because he has listened to what God asks of him; and even though it takes him to Jerusalem and to Calvary, it also takes him to his resurrection. In my imagination when the noise of crowd at the crucifixion is gone, and the wailing of the saddened mourners was quieted, Jesus listened once more to his Father who said: “Arise.”
Now the Forty Days we have begun in this season should really be about getting quiet again so that we can hear God’s voice, listen, and be obedient. The story of Jesus in the desert is so much like the story of Adam and Eve who were talking instead of listening; listening to something created instead of the creator. In Matthew’s Gospel today, notice how the Adam and Eve story gets retold with different consequence. Jesus is tempted, but instead of listening to the tempter, Jesus listens and is obedient to the Word of God in the sacred scriptures which he quotes to the tempter. This is a model for these forty days: listening to the Word of God that means being obedient to the God’s Word.
In these times of secularism and individualism, some would prefer to take a narrow understanding of “obedience” suggesting that it is some kind of submissive behavior unworthy of truly independent free people; but that strikes me as coming out of the mind of an adolescent who has not yet gotten the priorities of life together leaving them to rebel and pretend that they are really free to do what they want all the time. Never mind what consequence their decisions in that mind-set might have upon others.
Those who have finally grown up and grown into their faith have their priorities set, and they have decided that God comes first because they have discovered that they cannot serve both God and this world. One or the other always has first place. So, they feel nothing but freedom and peace from becoming obedient, which simply means they listen to God before anyone else. The same kind of freedom and peace that guided the life, the decisions, and the relationships for Jesus of Nazareth is what we seek in this season, and it is what will lead us to one day hear God say: “Arise.”