Of course, I have to take a moment here to do a little theological housecleaning. Theological housecleaning is where you clear out some of those ideas and interpretations that have gathered in the corners of people’s minds over the centuries, and kind of encrusted themselves there and started to smell and fester and give off disease.
Housecleaning, because many people have interpreted this passage to mean that because Eve ate the apple first (It probably wasn’t actually an apple. The author was most likely referring to a fig, or a date.) Because Eve ate first, she was the weaker gender. She succumbed to the snake’s temptation and then seduced Adam, poor old Adam, into eating too. Therefore women nowadays are still the weaker sex and more prone to evil, since evil came into the world through them in the first place.
Grimy, crusty, disease ridden idea. At one point gave rise to a horrible fifteenth century book called the Malleus Malificarum, Latin for the Hammer of Witches, which for two hundred years outsold every other book except the Bible. It fueled the fires of the witch hunts of that era, by which hundreds of thousands of women in Germany and north central Europe were murdered in horrible ways.
This is not a game. The idea that women are somehow weaker or more evil than men is not true.
The point of this story is not that women are weaker than men, or that men are weaker than women, but that both are weak. We are all weak, men, women, old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, brown, purple, pink with green polka dots. We all eat of that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Oh, and we all know so much, don’t we.
We know who is good and who is evil. We says, “I know the people who are good, and the people who are evil, the people I like, the people I fear, the ones who I can use, the ones who are expendable and don’t matter. I know what parts of creation are pretty to me, appealing to me, useful to me and which parts are icky or scary, or just in the way, the parts I can burn.” We behave as if we know ourselves. Do we see ourselves as good? What do you say when you talk about yourself. Do you say you’re good? That’s not what I hear. When people come in my office, they don’t say that. What do you say about yourselves? “I’m despicable. I’m disgusting. I’m bad.”
What did God say about you? What did God say about all people, everyone, every creature and atom of creation at the dawn of time? God saw all that God had made, and indeed, it was exceedingly good. That’s what God says about it all. We may forget our goodness. We may betray our goodness. We may have to restrain one another from betraying our goodness. But this is what God says about you. “Good.”
We know so much, we humans. We can send people to the moon. Did you hear that Space-X, the company that makes the rockets, is planning to send two space tourists on a trip around the moon? I propose that we have a bake sale at church so we can take a congregational retreat around the moon. Yes.
We have sent our spacecraft to Mars and Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto. We can manipulate the genetic code in such a way as to fight cancer—and alter species. We could, if we wanted to, edit our own genetic code. Tell me, what traits would you like to blot out of the human genome? Is it good or evil?
We have the ability to crash atoms together, forming the unimaginable heat at the core of the sun. We can call down that fire on one another if we so choose, so that our cities, with all of their vitality and diversity, become poisonous wastelands for generations.
We have so much knowledge. What we do not have so much of, is wisdom. Book of Proverbs says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The awe, reverence for that which is greater than ourselves, this infinite beauty, this absolute love. Again, in the book of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom, Dame Wisdom stands on the street corner as a prophetess, calling people to life, calling people to deep understanding.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus associates himself with Dame Wisdom when he responds to everybody’s criticism by saying “Yet Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Well, what is Jesus’ deed? What does he do? He heals people. He proclaims forgiveness. He stands up for the truth and the love of God, even when they’re going to kill him. He trusts God, that which is greater than himself, to carry him through death into resurrection. He calls us to do the same.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus uses wisdom to fight the devil. The devil comes to Jesus with tree very basic human concerns: Food, safety and power. Devil says, “Turn these stones into bread.” And indeed, this is a legitimate concern. People need to eat. We need shelter, clothes, jobs, medical care. And we appreciate those who bring it to us. Grocers and nurses and construction workers are agents of God’s abundance.
But you can have the most sumptuous feast in human history, the most luxurious mansion on the face of the earth, medical care to make you live to be a hundred and fifty years old, and if you don’t have a sense of the wonder of God’s love somewhere in you, God’s love for you and for everyone else in creation, it will all taste like dust.
Jesus says, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Devil takes Jesus to a high pinnacle and says “Throw yourself off, for the angels will catch you.” This is a legitimate concern, that we be safe. Everyone wants to be invulnerable. Nobody wants to be hurt. And indeed we appreciate those whose job it is to keep us safe. They are emissaries of God’s protection. That’s what makes their job so hard.
But you can hide yourself in a fortress made of solid steel, with machine gun cannons all around you, and if you don’t have a sense of the God whose love reaches beyond all threat, beyond even death, if you don’t have wisdom, you will always be terrified, you will die.
Jesus says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Rather, by implication, you will trust God. Trust God to see you through the danger, to uphold you with a dignity that stands, no matter what has ever been done to you or what ever might be done to you. A dignity, a love that carries us to resurrection.
Devil takes Jesus to a mountain and says, “All the kingdoms of the world, I will give to you, if only you will do things my way and bow down to me. “ Oh, we do like our kingdoms, we human beings. We like that power and that glory. And indeed we need power. We need some kind of authority, some agreed upon rules and form of leadership in order to get anything done. It’s just that, you can be king of the world, empress of the universe, but if you don’t have a sense of accountability to that world and universe, a sense of accountability to the God who made them, your power will be nothing but vanity and a striving after wind.
We need wisdom. Connection to the God who is greater.
Now, here’s good news. Wisdom does not just wait for us to find it, whether in deep study or perceptive life. Lady Wisdom comes to us, always. Jesus always, always comes to us. Jesus always loves us.
There is another scene that the great artists like to paint. It takes place in another garden, with another woman and another man. It’s by Rembrandt, in the royal collection in Great Britain. Mary Magdalene kneels, face down on a gray stone in front of an empty tomb.
I need to take a moment for little theological house cleaning with Mary Magdalene too. Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. There is not Scriptural evidence for that at all. Jesus cast out seven demons from her. She is not a mother, particularly, or anybody’s wife. Just someone who has been blessed, who follows Jesus.
Mary Magdalene kneels face down at that rock. She does not know what has happened yet. Angels in shadowy shapes sit in the tomb, legs dangling like fourth graders sitting on a low brick wall. Mary thinks Jesus is dead. That death is the final power. And here comes Jesus, risen from the dead, sauntering around a big stone. He is dressed like a gardener. The sleeves of his robe are pulled up. He’s got this Dutch hat on, wide brim, looks like Gandalf in The Hobbit. Pruning shears tucked in his belt.
Jesus is looking down at Mary Magdalene with this bemused expression, as if to say, “Hey, why are you so upset? I told you God was greater than anything, greater even than death. I told you I would rise from the dead. Come on, look up. It’s going to be okay.”
Yeah. That’s a good painting to look at too.