The Cunning Serpent

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.

These are the words that begin our first reading today. God created humanity. The first part of this verse is taking literally by some. God formed us out of the clay. They use the creation story in the Bible to refute evolution and the Big Bang Theory. In faith, we look more to the second part where it says God, “blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” God gives us life. God brings order to creation as the Creator. (If you would like to find out more about what the Catholic Church says regarding evolution and creation, go to my article “Catholic Teaching and the Question of Evolution.”)

After creating man, God placed him in the Garden of Eden. Our first reading today speaks of two particular trees in the garden, “the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God then created woman as a partner for the man. God gave Adam and Even just one rule, don’t eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were allowed to eat of the tree of life. God gives us life. Why would God not want them to eat of the tree of knowledge? Before we answer that we turn to the next scene.

The serpent, who “was the most cunning of all the animals,” came to Eve. In his cunning, the serpent tries to twist God’s words, saying to Eve, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”. Eve knows better and says it is only the one tree they are not allowed to eat from or they would die.

Some likely interpret “die” to mean death to this world. God is thinking of a worse death, death from sin, a death which separates us from him.

The serpent wants to convince Eve (and us) that we cannot trust God. The serpent says, “You certainly will not die. God knows well that the moment you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” Is God hiding this from us? Does God try to keep us from becoming like us?

Why doesn’t God want Adam and Eve to know what is good and evil? At this point Adam and Eve are innocent for as Paul writes to the Romans, “sin is not accounted when there is no law.” They do not know what is good or bad. They live in innocence, trusting in what the Lord tells them.

Was the devil right that they would know good and evil if Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit? Yes, but was this a good thing? As soon as they eat the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened “and they realized that they were naked.” Humanity was forever changed in that moment. We call it “original sin.” Human beings have been sinning ever since.

The devil is cunning in the way he tempts us. He makes what is bad look good. He tries to convince us that what God says is bad for us is actually good. For example, the devil emphasizes the physical pleasure in sexual activity so much that we lose sight of the intimate love that sexual activity is meant to express between a married man and woman. The devil never tells us of the bad effects. He emphasizes the physical pleasures to lead us away from God.

We are sinners. What are we to do?

Trust in God.

When we sin, we cannot undo the sin. We must ask God to create a clean heart in us, to wipe out our offenses and wash us from our guilt. For God to do this, we must acknowledge our offenses, that we have sinned and done what is evil is God’s sight. It’s right there in today’s psalm. We do this in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Unfortunately, even with God’s help, we are weak. The devil continues to tempt us as long as we live in this world. He will never give up. Is it possible to resist temptation? Absolutely! Just look at how many sins you don’t commit!

Jesus, because He became incarnate in the flesh, knows what it is like to face temptation. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus is the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, but in his humanity it was necessary for him to face temptation.

In the desert, Jesus fasted for “forty days and forty nights.” The number 40 is common in the Bible. In Noah’s day, it rained for forty days and forty nights. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain (Exodus 24:18, Exodus 34:28). The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert. Jesus shows his unity with us in the forty days He spent in the desert. Then came the time for Jesus to face temptation with the devil face to face.

The devil knew Jesus’ power. He also knew that Jesus had fasted for forty days and was hunger. The devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” It would seem reasonable that if Jesus is hunger, that He turn the stones into bread. However, Jesus knows that He is not called to use his power for himself but for us. Jesus sees something much greater at work here than his physical hunger. We can learn from Jesus that the ends do not justify the means.

The devil even cites scripture in his temptation of Jesus. He speaks of God’s promise to protect us (Psalm 91:11). Jesus responds with another Bible verse (Deuteronomy 6:16), “You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test.” God sends angels to protect us but that doesn’t mean we should act dangerously and expect God to pick up the pieces.

The devil offers Jesus the whole world if Jesus would prostrate himself to worship the devil. What does the devil offer you if you worship him? Perhaps you are thinking, “Wait a minute! I do not worship the devil!” Perhaps not consciously but do you give into his ways of pride and greed? Do you seek to make a name for yourself with a great worldly job or in government leadership? Do you allow money to become your God, doing whatever it takes to get rich? Have you sold your soul to the devil?

Of course, Jesus resists this temptation too. However, we do not always resist temptation. Is there any hope for us?

Of course there is! Even if you have sold your soul to the devil, Jesus can rescue you. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.” The disobedience of sin began in Adam and Eve. It is through the obedience of Jesus to his Father (and our Father) on the Cross that we are made righteous as our sins are forgiven!

Thank you Jesus!


Fr. Jeff

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