Sometimes I wonder if it’s human nature to feel like Eve.
If I’m told, “you really shouldn’t have another bite,” I want to eat it. It gets worse if it’s from a thin person, because I resent their slenderness. If it’s from a big person I ignore it because, what do they know?
Unsolicited advice? Why not respond, “thank you, but I intend on doing the exact opposite.” It’s instinctive. Instead, the person who encourages us to rebel, to take matters into our own hands, that’s the person really on our side.
Admittedly, when I get the advice, the warning, the friendly feedback, I take a breath and remind myself the person has my best interests at heart. I consider if there is any truth in what they say. I play with the alternative – what if I took the advice? What if I ignore it?
Sometimes it matters how I get advice. More subtle techniques tend to work more effectively, using suggestion rather than demand.
But we don’t like being told what to do. Or what to want.
So there’s God, ordering Eve around, telling her what she can or can’t have. There’s the serpent giving advice in his suggestive, appealing, way. He exacerbates the problem, asking Eve, doesn’t she want to be like God?
It’s easy to first assume, after hundreds of years, that this is primarily about sex or gender. I’m not so sure. To me, it’s merely about desire, and the insight that it is desire, the wanting what another person has, at the root of leaving the Garden. I don’t know if it’s moral. But it’s certainly part of our nature.
The gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) has Jesus wrestling with desire. He’s at the end of his rope, hungry, weak, and there’s probably nothing more than a quiet bed and some Nutella that would make him happier. At that point, Satan offers him everything. Satan asks, what does Jesus want? And so over 40 days, here we are, being asked, “what do we want? Do we really want it?”
I think about a friend of mine who was concerned about what kindergarten his son was going to attend. Apparently getting into kindergarten in NY is pretty competitive. The kids get tested, and there are interviews. And I wonder why? Is it to get into the right elementary school? Stuyvesant? Dalton? To get into the right eating club at Princeton?
We want things.
We see that Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days. That’s a signal. It’s parallel to Noah’s flood and to the Exodus story. God had sent rain to start over. The world had been caught in mimetic rivalry, where everyone wanted everything from everybody else. Of course violence would be the norm. Noah gathered creation to save it, and everything else caught in the violence was wiped clean.
And in Exodus, Moses leads a people through the desert. Over those forty years, people think about returning to the comforts of the lash. Moses promises freedom if we can just find the tenacity to get through, if we merely obey the law that limits our desire to screw things up for other people and play fair. In the mean time, the community loses their religion, and finds shiny things to worship.
Moses forges on. The golden calf, itself a symbol of the desire for things, for wealth and abundance, to compete with God, attracts the Israelites away from the promised land.
In this way, we learn a bit about what Jesus’ temptation was about. The ark was meant to be secure; he represents liberation.
We will never get rid of desire; we will not erase original sin. If anything, original sin is what makes us human.
But the life of a disciple, then, is not to deny the desires around us, but to repair and reconcile them when they break us. To some religion is about saying enough; but then there is also the recognition that when we’ve had too much, a future is not denied us.
Lent as that opportunity: a time set aside to focus on healing. It may be personal; it may be more social; it may be even political. But We are surrounded by opportunities to be broken and fragmented, that Lent becomes a period to be focused on another kind of life. What if we realized we didn’t need the world; but were satisfied in another way? What if we just gave up whatever made us dissatisfied? We just decided, we didn’t need it.
I think this is what Jesus understood. He didn’t need it. He’d survived the flood. He’d walked through the wilderness. And here on the other side of the resurrection, he models being an anchor onto that necessary, but elusive sentiment, hope.
We ate the apple. It was, after all, what made us human. But here, following Jesus, the Christ, means that whatever harm has been done, we can be sure there is another way, if we so choose.