OT Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Lent 1 – Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

This Sunday is the first of Lent, a period of penitence and reflection on our sins and lack of holiness. But what exactly do we mean by ‘sin’? If I were a fly on the wall, or could read people’s minds, I would love to know what was going on in people’s minds when we were praying the prayer of confession at the start of our communion services each week. I would be interested, not for the prurient pleasure of being a spectator on others’ peccadillos, but because I am interested in what exactly we count as sins needing confession. I suspect if I had such telepathic gifts I would observe a few lost tempers and harsh words, maybe some petty dishonesty with the biros at work, and even perhaps an excessive interest from some in Naked Attraction on Channel 4. It is fascinating to know what Christians think sin is, and today’s OT reading gives us what may be some new angles.

We know the story. God generously gives the man and woman everything to eat and enjoy, apart from just one tree. If we were led into a great library and told we could read any book we liked except this one, where would we all immediately head? It’s human nature. So all the other wonderful vegetation fades into the background, with all the focus on that one. However we read this story, talking snake and all, it tells us truths about human nature but also about the nature of sin as the Bible sees it.

Sin is doubting God. Helped, of course by the snake, who twists and misquotes God’s words, the couple are led to begin to believe that maybe God hasn’t been as all-blessing and generous as they had previously thought. Where there are limits they are for our good, just like speed limits on the motorway, but sin’s roots lie in questioning whether a good God has put limits in place for our safety, or whether he’s just being a bit of a killjoy. This story is often called ‘The Fall’, but I heard one theologian saying it would be better described as ‘The Rupture’, where the human race burst out of the health-giving limits to go where it should not have gone. Sin is fundamentally thinking that we know better than God.

Sin is entering into discussion. There’s a sense in which the battle is lost at the start of verse 2, when the woman tries to discuss the situation with the snake, and clarify the issues. Most of the time we don’t sin suddenly: we make choices after weighing up the options. You can’t win an argument with the devil, and Jesus knew this. There’s a real contrast with Jesus in today’s gospel and Eve’s attempts to argue the toss. Jesus refuses to countenance any discussion: he dismisses Satan’s temptations with terse phrases and concise Scripture quotations. When we start to explore sin or rationalise it, we’ve lost.

Sin is wanting more. That rupture occurs when we want more than it is right for us to have, or more than God has chosen to give us. The idea of ‘becoming like God’ in v.4 is an attractive one. One commentator on this passage suggests that the Hebrew for ‘knowing good and evil’ is not simply about knowing what’s right or wrong, but rather implies deciding for ourselves what is right or wrong, thus rejecting God’s reign over our lives and doubting that he knows best what’s good for us. Sin isn’t just about greed and covetousness. It’s about wanting, in Frank Sinatra’s immortal words, to do it my way.

Sin is putting desire above obedience. The final move which clinched the deal for the couple was seeing how nice it would be to eat the fruit. They had been told very clearly what they should do and not do, but all that went out of the window as they gazed on the forbidden fruit and imagined how wonderful it would taste. It was that final triumph of human desire over obedience to God which actually got the fruit into their mouths.

So that journey, of doubting God, arguing about it, wanting more and placing what we feel we want above what God has said, is the royal route to sin, which Jesus so steadfastly refuses to travel in the Gospel reading. Maybe Lent is a time to look more deeply, not just at what we have done to offend God, but why we did it and how we got to that point.

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