Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)
In the past week we had World Book Day. Children all over the country went to school dressed as a character from a book. Lots of Harry Potters, and Where’s Wallys out there, as well as not a few Red Riding Hoods and Cinderellas. And there were even two children who were dressed as pages 89 & 165 of the Argos Catalogue.
The point of course is to encourage reading, and an enthusiasm for books. We might read books as paperbacks, hardbacks, audiobooks or on kindles, but they are books all the same. They inspire us, enlighten us, enthuse us and excite us. You can adapt them them into films or on the radio or in TV serials, but even so, there is nothing quite like a book.
The best books of all tell stories that we can identify with. When we curl up with a book it is because we feel ourselves part of the story. These are Stories with goodies and baddies, heroes and villains, with joys and tears. They are Stories which introduces to characters who in some way we feel a connection with. When things go wrong for them, we feel for them. When they fall on hard times, when they are ill-treated or treated unjustly, we feel angry and distressed with them. When they encounter peril and danger, we fear with them, and when they win through in the end, we rejoice with them.
So many books and stories follow this same pattern - a good start, a dramatic fall, an anxious struggle, and at last, a joyful resolution. Think about it, children’s tales, adult romances, science fiction epics, detective mysteries, all follow a similar pattern, from Harry Potter to Agatha Christie, we travel through the lows and highs of the despicable sins and exemplary virtues of human beings.
Today's readings introduce too into that kind of story, a narrative, a Drama which unfolds for us the mystery of human existence, and opens for us the loving mercy of God.
It is a tale in two parts.
Part One is todays Old Testament reading, from the book of Genesis.
Here we hear the story of the creation of a wonderful paradise, a beautiful garden, and then the original sin which spoils it all. This story contains a deep truth, but not the truth of history or science, but the truth of God’s generosity, and of the selfishness of human nature. All is made good - yet everything goes wrong.
The fundamental sin of humanity, the basic betrayal, the sin which makes all the difference, is found in the illusion that if we turn our backs on God’s goodness, then we can make ourselves like him. 'Eat this fruit,' the serpent says, 'and you will be like gods'.
Human beings think that we can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong; that we can solve all problems and answer all questions. Man has no bounds, the serpent says, the world says. Humanity can raise itself to the same level and power as God.
Lets get this straight. Sin and Evil is not something which God has done, or created. No - it is the decision, the choice of Humanity. The First Sin is facing the most basic temptation, and giving into it The imperfection of the world starts here. This is the Fall, which taints us all. This is Original Sin, which we have all been born into.
What was so good, becomes spoiled and tainted, through selfishness and arrogance.
The curtain descends in the darkness. The End of Part One.
And then, the Gospel opens a new Act in this Drama, a new scene in this story, a new chapter in the book. The New Testament is the Sequel, which will tie up the loose ends left by Adam and Eve and provide the ultimate conclusion.
Here we meet the new Adam. The one who comes to confront the serpent, to look evil deep in the eye, to resist temptation on behalf of those who are overcome by it all the time.
It was after all, temptation which was the Theatre of the Fall of humanity, and the Invention of Evil, and now Temptation begins the tale which will lead us through the struggles and sacrifices of Lent, through the apparent calamities of Holy Week to the extraordinary conclusion at Easter.
Let the drama begin.