RCL A Lent 1
Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5:12-19, Saint Matthew 4:1-11

Last Sunday, as gently as possible, I reminded you and me that we are merely human. Our expectations of our Lenten journey are bounded by what is allowed by God to human beings.

The lesson is tough to absorb for some, but I hope that none of us believes something else. To believe that we are divine, that we can triumph over sin and death through our own effort alone, is heretical in theological terms, and it is pathological in psychological terms.

Yet we may be tempted to think that we are obliged to resist temptation as resolutely and conclusively as Jesus does in today’s Gospel.

But the truth is that only God can make stones become bread. Only God can throw himself down from a height, like the pinnacle of the temple, and save himself. Only God can give over all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor to the devil. Those things are not ours to give.

The temptations of Jesus are temptations of his divine nature not his human nature. We cannot expect ourselves to equal his success when we face temptation.

What we need to remember today, throughout Lent, and throughout our lives is that Jesus’ success in resisting temptation preserves his qualification to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. We do not have to equal him.

What we need to do in every way possible is to observe the boundary between Jesus’ divinity and our humanity. We can simply rely on him to be God, that is, to be and to do the things that pertain to God.

And in this holy season, chief among those things that pertain to God is the power to forgive human beings. We let God be God, and we let Jesus be Jesus, when we accept God’s forgiveness of our sins.

That is why we begin our service in Lent with the Penitential Order and why we rehearse the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments remind us where we have failed, and the Absolution reminds us that God has and does forgive us over and over again even when we are not able to forgive ourselves.

When we observe Lent by prayer, self-denial, alms-giving, and studying God’s holy Word, we are, as the gamblers say, playing with house money. We cannot fail, not because we are perfect, but because Jesus succeeded in our stead. He did and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our project throughout Lent and throughout our lives is to identify more closely with Jesus’ saving acts. To rely on him is to let him be God and to accept his forgiveness. If we succeed in letting God be God, we happily and joyfully exclaim, “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, * and whose sin is put away!”[1]

[1] Psalm 32:1.