Lectionary passages for March 9: Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Ps. 32, Rom. 5:12-20, Matt. 4:1-11.
Most of us would rather chew lemons than get into a discussion on the theme of this week's passages. Sin is a topic that can lead to polarized comments, long philosophical discussions on the nature of the beast (pun intended), vague and pointed guilty feelings, disagreements on proper consequences, and finger wagging.
We are, however, stuck with this important topic, and we should be talking about it. If the "lemons" of black and white thinking and pointing fingers can be left alone, the topic has the power to lead people into forgiveness and freedom.Engaging the scriptures is a great way to get at the topic, especially when we try our best to leave preconceptions behind.
In Genesis, the issue of sin is simple. The people sin when they clearly and deliberately disobey God. So much has been done with this "original sin" concept, that our thinking about it is often muddied-but the scriptures are simple. It's not about sex, it's not about who tempted whom. It's about people, men and women, deliberately defying God to try to elevate themselves to the status of God with their knowledge. They knew what they were doing, and they did it anyway. Defiance of God and self-aggrandizement are the original sins that separate people from God.
Psalm 32 deals with the weight of guilt, the glory of forgiveness, and the desire to trust in God. "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long..." (v 3) Although the psalmist experiences the heaviness of his sin, once he confesses to God, he is freed and joyous in his outlook. So, while the topic is sin, the focus is much more on God's power to bless, deliver, and protect. This is not an exercise in guilt, but in release and hope!
The Romans passage does some of the philosophical circling that tastes a bit "lemony", especially when Paul gets into the business of what is sin if there is no law bit, but here too, the focus is more on redemption than on the particulars of offense. Paul compares Adam and Christ, saying that just as sin can come into the world and multiplied from one source, so too grace multiplies from one source. It's a real encouragement that we shouldn't feel overcome by sin, because the gift of God's love is so much greater that it can overwhelm the consequences of our sins. In verse 14, Paul even references people who haven't sinned by breaking any laws-showing that it is possible, there are people who are blameless. Paul's focus isn't pointing fingers or bemoaning past transgressions, or calling everyone hopeless sinners. His focus is rejoicing in a God who is able to redeem the world, a God who is stronger than sin.
The Matthew passage isn't really about sin, it's about temptation. If Jesus had turned stones to bread, or had angels put on a "rescue" show, would that have been sin? I don't see anything to suggest that it would, but it certainly would have paved the way for more listening to poor counsel! Bowing down, the third temptation, however, would definitely have crossed a line and been a sinful act. (Deut. 6) The story of Jesus' temptation is a model of responding well to avoid sin. He knows what God has asked, he doesn't seek glory for himself, and he puts God first.
Thinking about sin in light of these passages sugars the lemons for me. Instead of a distasteful finger pointing or guilt inducing discussion, or a naming of black and white, the focus is strongly on God's ability to set us free.
We do need to talk about sin, but these scriptures inspire us, as we speak with each other, to keep our focus on God's power to redeem not on our proclivities to categorize and condemn.