Poison or Medicine

Poison or Medicine
Matthew 4:1-11 and Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
February 26, 2023

Then [after Jesus was baptized] Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’ ”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

In the ancient near east, snakes were seen as symbols of transformation. In their venom, they had the power to poison or to create medicine. This symbol seems to echo the story of human history. We can choose to be poison or medicine. We can choose war or we can choose peace. We can choose to ignore and oppress our neighbor or we can choose to love our neighbor. We can choose death or we can choose life. 

In the Genesis scripture, we see the snake say, “God knows that when you eat the fruit, your eyes will be opened.” This is not a lie but as so often happens with a trickster character, this is also not the whole truth. Eve and Adam eat the fruit but they do not die as they thought, at least not physically in that moment. But God had told them the truth as well because a death did occur. The death of their innocence. 

Once again, this is the story of humanity. At some point each one of us leave our childhood and become adults. We move out of our family homes and we venture into the world. We start to see things from a different perspective than that of our parents. Sometimes for better and sometimes worse. This is the struggle where we attempt to grow from knowledge to wisdom. Some have said the difference between knowledge and wisdom is the knowledge that a tomato is a fruit (knowledge) but that a tomato should not be added to a fruit salad (wisdom). 

This all brings us to our gospel text for today. Jesus, the exemplar of our faith, shows us what this mature and wise life should look like. In this narrative that wants the reader to hear echoes of that first temptation in Genesis as well as the Israelites wandering in the wilderness from Exodus, Jesus faces the accuser head on. Will Jesus choose – comfort and ease over respect for nature, divine rescue over vulnerability, or domination over others instead of justice for all?

As we face similar challenges in our lives and as we struggle toward wisdom outside of the garden of Eden, Jesus teaches us. Jesus refuses to turn stone into bread because he knows his power is to be used for something far greater than his hunger. Jesus refuses to test God because Jesus already trusts God. Jesus refuses the loyalty to worldly authority because he knows power is meant for justice and not domination. Jesus refuses to listen to the words of worldly power and domination and instead keeps trusting in the Word of God that calls us to deeply trust in God and to build relationships of love and justice with our neighbor. 

Jesus has learned all this because he has been listening to good teachers about how to hear God the Creator’s voice. Jesus spends time individually seeking out God. Jesus spends time in community at his local temple asking questions and listening for wisdom. Jesus teaches us how to seek out wisdom. It comes from the ability to listen, knowing what God sounds like and what the many other voices sound like that call for our loyalty. 

Which brings us to the big question today: what voices are we listening to? Are we listening to the snake or to God? Are we listening to poison or medicine? Are they leading towards less life or more life? Do they separate us from others? Do they tell us to hoard power? Do they tell us to trust them with our futures instead of God’s way? We must question who we are listening to, for the news, for advice, for the future. We receive thousands of messages everyday from our world, messages that tell us we are not worthy, we are not loveable, we are not enough, we cannot make a difference, we are only as good as the work we do… But these messages are all poison. 

We must first listen to God’s words which Pastor Liz reminded us of last week, The first words we will ever hear from this voice, that we are God’s beloved, and we can never lose that. And then second that our neighbors, the oppressed, the silenced, the houseless are also God’s beloved. We must develop faithful practices that help us discern God’s voice amongst the noise. As we take this Lenten journey together, consider what voices you are listening to? Make room to listen for God’s still small voice telling you that you are beloved. And then go to the world filled with messages of poison and share that good news of medicine with all our neighbors. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: