1st Sunday of Lent A
Let’s talk about Monothelitism, everyone’s favorite ninth century heresy. Monotheletes believed that Jesus had one will while the Church believed and believes that he had both a human and divine will that co-existed. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is absolutely essential that we know that Jesus had a human will – that he indeed experienced the same emotions, desires and challenges we face. 0therwise, when we hear a story about temptation, we might think Jesus just “Godded” himself out of difficulties.
I have been thinking about this week when I asked myself what was the difference between Adam and Eve’s failure to resist temptation and Jesus’ success. I feel badly for Eve in the story of the fall because she is matching wits with the serpent, a master manipulator who already knows her vulnerabilities and uses every tool in the tempter’s toolbox.
The serpent begins with deceit. “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” Eve remains brave and points out that it is only of the two trees at the center of the garden that they cannot eat. This intrigues the serpent who then suggests that God is trying to protect his power and that if she eats of the fruit “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” Now Eve is interested. She has an intimate relationship with God; has been literally formed by God. Perhaps now she could be like God. Finally, sensuality takes over. She “saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” Eve succumbs, eats the fruit and everything is changed. Then of course, Adam comes along without being tempted, sees Eve eating forbidden fruit and figures it looks good and takes a bite himself. Ya know, men!
There is something perfect about the story in how it captures our human nature. If you put fifty toys in front of a child and say they can play with all of them except for one, there will be an automatic attraction to the one which is not allowed. And this points to the question of wants versus needs.
Clearly, Adam and Eve are in need of nothing. They literally live in paradise! All of creation was planned around them. Yet, they still have wants. Now wants are not bad. They inspire us, fulfill us and move us forward. They represent our vision. The true danger is in confusing wants and needs. For example, nobody needs to be President, they want to be although they act as if they need to be. You want a good grade on the test or the promotion at work, but you do not need them. However, the moment our wants pass over to needs in our minds, then we are vulnerable to sin. If I need a good grade, I can justify cheating. If I need the promotion, there is nothing wrong with starting a rumor about my competition. Isn’t that the basis of most of our sins – treating our wants as needs and allowing ourselves to attain them by any means necessary rather than patiently waiting for what God has prepared for us? When we confuse our wants with our needs, we act desperately for which we should not be desperate.
Now compare the story of the fall with Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The tempter is back and is as sophisticated and cunning as ever. His approach will be to use scripture against Jesus. Bold. He begins by challenging Jesus on a real need. One of my favorite unintentionally funny lines in the Gospel is that Jesus, “fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” Duh. So when the devil challenges Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread, there is real need. But even the physical needs of Jesus surrender to his primary need, to do the will of the Father. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” The second temptation is more of a want, that I would give into. The devil tells Jesus he could throw himself off the top of the Temple and angels would rescue him. And surely, they would, but Jesus never used his power for his own good. If I were Jesus, I would have flown to Jerusalem and see the apostles when they get there. The third temptation though touches on need. The devil promises all the kingdoms of the earth to Jesus if only he would, “prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus’ mission is to be king of the universe, but he cannot pay that price. The way to good is never through evil. The ends never justify the means. The means only become the ends.
Yet Jesus operates on a different level beyond wants and means. He chooses based only on utter love. Angels would prevent him from falling if he threw himself off the Temple, but Jesus’ purpose is to crash. He could have called out a host of heavenly beings to stop him from being taken away, but he suffered instead. And he could have called on God to rescue him from the cross, but he died instead. Utter love to prove every one of us might know we are loved; might feel our worth.
We do not have two wills, but one human will. But we also have the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit of Jesus, that can bend our will to the divine. We can love utterly as well. We can ask who needs me and respond. We can hear the cry for justice and befriend the lonely. We can lay down our lives for our friends.
So let our wants be generous and charitable, something that lifts people beyond ourselves. Let our needs be few and pure. And let us love utterly, shaping the world by our love as Jesus did.