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Angels, please

During Lent, we are asked to turn away from sin and take a spiritual journey to Christ. It is no surprise, therefore, that the readings of the first Sunday of Lent pack a heavy punch.  

We find ourselves in the Garden of Eden, where Eve tempts Adam to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. In the Gospel, we encounter Jesus fasting in the wilderness, suffering his humanity, being tempted by the devil. Yet still he obeys his father.  

Amongst the rich landscape of these stories, it is the serpent in the garden who interests me today. He surely represents the same devil who tormented Jesus? Why the form of a serpent? And why did he approach Eve and not Adam? He is described as cunning, shrewd, or subtle, depending on the translation, and his ability to talk is at once sinister and worthy of a role in a Disney animation. But he cannot be dismissed; it could be argued that he is responsible for the Fall of Man.  

Serpents are depicted as magical, mysterious creatures in mythology and literature alike. There is a reason for that. They slither on the ground and hide in trees and grass. Snakes should be vulnerable, but they are not. They are tremendously strong, capable of digesting an animal considerably larger than themselves, and we are all too conscious of the venom at the tips of their vampiric teeth. They are the perfect beast to symbolise the devil.  

The surrender to temptation in the Garden of Eden is severely punished by God, and the tempter is the first to be cursed. The snake is doomed to grovel in the dust and be struck on the head. I almost feel sorry for him.  

The punishment meted out to Adam and Eve is the reason giving birth is painful. It strips harmony from marriage. It is the reason we toil so hard to put food on our table until the day we die. The price for disobeying God is harsh.  

There is inevitably a consequence to sin. Someone is always hurt, and often we hurt ourselves the most. Maybe the serpent lives in us all, and we are constantly having to resist this cunning beast. Experience says that when we do resist, we get to sleep well at night, laugh easily with those we love, and look our fellows straight in the eye.  

Jesus resisted sin in the wilderness. These temptations, in his weakest hour, must have been unbearably powerful. Yet he stood firm. For his obedience, "angels appeared and looked after him.”  

A message is clear: When faced with sin, we have a choice. Snakes or angels?  

 Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7   Psalm 50: 3-6, 12-14, 17   Romans 5:12,17-19   Matthew 4:1-11

Source: 1st Sunday of Lent A1

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