Monday, February 11, 2008


Serpent in the Garden, Satan in the Desert
Genesis, 3 Matthew, 4

We heard some great stories at today's Mass, didn't we? We listened to the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve on the one hand and the victory of Jesus over Satan on the other. Our Holy Mother the Church told us those stories this morning for our own good. She knows that we so often have the temptation to fall back on the weakness of Adam and Eve to explain away our own foibles and weaknesses. She makes us listen to the story of Jesus and Satan because she knows that we are better prepared for the sparring than Adam and Eve were. She wants us to know that being human is not an excuse, it is a blessing.

You're saying, "Oh come, on! Not so. Look, Adam and Eve didn't have the Original Sin weakening them. They were walking and strolling in the Garden and talking to God and enjoying life, plain and simple. They had plenty to eat, they worked without sweating, they didn't need clothes because they were sinless so far, so they didn't have the burden of evil to carry around. They were innocent about life. They were there with God enjoying their freedom and doing Him little favors like naming the plants and the animals and stuff like that. You have to admit that it must not have been a bad life. I bet that if some of you are like I am, you wish sometimes that you could go back to the Garden of Eden just for a short vacation. Just to see what it was
like to be that innocent. We sometimes think to ourselves, "That would be so neat."

But then, I hear the two stories that we heard today, side by side. Adam and Eve with the serpent in the Garden and Jesus in the desert with Satan. Jesus was innocent too. But He was innocent in a different way. Jesus was innocent not like a baby is innocent. Jesus was innocent not like Adam and Eve were. Remember they had never experienced evil. They did not know what sin is. The serpent knew evil. The serpent was evil. For him it was like taking candy from babies. The devil had a lot of experience because he was a part of the fallen angel brigade who had rebelled against God out of pride. Adam and Eve only had themselves and their sweet innocent knowledge of God who had not ever tempted them, of course. He had even given them directions about what they could do and what they should not do. In a confrontation with the wily devil, they couldn't make it work.
To get back to Jesus (and by extension to us) we know that Jesus knew what evil is. Jesus knew the experiences of human beings very well, being an adult one Himself. Jesus had been schooled in the teachings that God showered on His people for centuries before Jesus was born. Jesus, like Adam came to the world without sin. He also maintained Himself sinless throughout His life. That's why we can call Jesus innocent. He conquered sin by keeping it out of His own life. We are taught that by the two stories that we heard today. Jesus was better prepared than Adam and Eve to conquer Satan. I dare say that we too are better prepared than Adam and Eve to conquer Satan in our lives. We are the beneficiaries of Jesus' ACTIVE innocence, the innocence that comes from maintaining a pure and clean heart and soul in the midst of evil. Jesus had the
history of His Father's teachings through the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Law. We too have that, plus the life and Gospel of Jesus Himself. Adam and Eve had none of that. God had just begun teaching His new creatures. Like so many of us, the serpent was able to poison their hearts and minds with the promise that they were ready for bigger and better things. They could be like God and get to know as much as He. Jesus stayed innocent in the desert because He outfoxed Satan at His own game. Jesus protected Himself from falling for Satan's tricks not because Jesus was God, but because Jesus new that all He had to do was to prove that Satan could not match wits with Him. As we say in sports, Jesus stayed within Himself and used what he had learned from the Scripture and turned it against Satan. God therefore stayed on the side of Jesus. Jesus did not have to show Himself as God to Satan. In fact He made all His arguments by staying separate from God. Jesus taught us that is it is not necessary to be God to beat Satan. It is only necessary that we accept the teachings that we receive from the Scripture, the Catechism and those people who love God and us. It is up to us to unite with Jesus and use these teachings to gain the personal victory over evil.

What God has been doing for us over the centuries is forming our conscience. God is teaching us the difference between good and evil. Jesus is the prime example of how to do that. Jesus not only left us with His example, He in fact left us His very own being, His body and His blood to serve as our shield against evil and the protector of our innocence. Not our infant type innocence, but our mature, adult innocence that is defined by our daily victory over evil in our personal and communitarian lives. It is our perseverance in this innocence that will pave our way to the Pearly Gates. Jesus is with us every step of the way urging us on, filling us with His own life. The Spirit is there keeping our hearts fired up with the desire to imitate Jesus
Himself in the fight against evil and in the zeal to help our fellow human beings to join us in the life of active, working innocence.

Pick up your bible again when you see this on your computer. Read the two stories again in the quiet of your favorite corner of the house. You'll see what I mean. You'll love it. Then you won't want to cry at my funeral. In fact, we may even want to shake hands at the Pearly Gates and give our Guardian Angels a high five in gratitude for all they did to help Jesus keep us on the straight and narrow.
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