Jesus is the new Moses.
Now that sounds more like a Chihuahua
than a Rottweiler
but for a lot of people
it’s a sleeping dog you don’t want to poke.
You see, we don’t care too much
and we are supposed to care a lot
But to the gospel writer of Matthew,
Jesus is the new Moses
and it is a big deal.
Matthew was a Jew
writing for a community of Jews
and Jewish Christians –
though they probably weren’t called that
in any universal way yet.
How do we know Matthew was Jewish?
Remember his Christmas story?
He is the only one who edits his story
to include the Magi
who arrive to give Jesus gold and stuff.
That right there, is a tip-off
that Jesus is a king.
Matthew takes great care in his gospel
to draw connections between
Jesus and King David – the first King of Israel.
His is the only gospel
that works so hard
to draw those connections.
Luke’s Christmas story, for example,
has low-life shepherds witness the event
instead of royalty –
and that is a clue
to what Luke cares about.
wants us to see Jesus
as the sum total of everything heroic and royal
A prophet-leader like Moses,
genetically connected to the throne of Israel,
descended from Abraham,
and more powerfully miraculous than Elijah.
Think about that now:
Someone who has God’s ear, like Moses.
Someone with DNA connecting him
to both Abraham and David.
And someone more miraculous than Elijah.
In 21st Century Hollywood parlance,
they would have to create a Marvel character
and the Incredible Hulk
all in one.
Now, the usual preaching narrative
for the 1st Sunday of Lent
depicts that gospel story of Jesus
being tempted in the wilderness
as an age-old struggle
between good and evil.
Frankly, that is not Matthew’s point at all.
Let me show you what I mean
and then you can judge for yourself.
A simple comparison between the Exodus story
and Matthew’s story
about Jesus in the wilderness,
will reveal that it is intended to be the same story.
Moses, 1000 years before Jesus,
was taken up to the high mountain
and shown land as far as the eye could see –
so was Jesus in his story.
Moses was with God
for 40 days and 40 nights –
and so was Jesus in his story.
During that 40 days
Moses did not eat or drink anything –
and neither did Jesus in his story.
Moses said, “We do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” –
Jesus said the same thing in his story.
“Do not put the Lord God to the test” –
Jesus said the same thing.
Moses also said,
“You shall serve the Lord God alone” –
which is pretty much what Jesus said.
The point here –
the one Matthew is making
by carefully laying out Jesus-in-the-Wilderness
as a parallel to Moses-in-the-Wilderness –
is that God has raised up someone like Moses.
For Matthew, that is what this story is all about.
It is not about Lent
or Jesus without sin,
or Jesus as bigger and badder than the devil.
the way Matthew tells it,
is about how God has raised up
a great prophet like Moses.
The Christian preaching tradition
has generally wanted to turn this story
into something supernatural –
all about Jesus v. Devil
as if it were an ESPN Fight Night narrative.
If we ignored what Matthew was presenting,
it would be a horror story
rather than a story of earthen spirituality.
As I said, Matthew was a Jew
and so he understood who Moses was –
what Moses was –
but a lot of Christians
just don’t get that part.
Ironically we just don’t get the importance
of a prophet.
We get the importance of engineers.
We can fathom how amazing astronauts are.
We can appreciate Presidential power.
There is awe that goes along
with the Nobel Peace Prize.
We are simply stunned by surgeons
and especially the incredible array of technology
they have working for them these days.
But prophets are out there with camels and sand
on our scale of “Wow!”
Prophets are just not part of our world.
So we don’t get Matthew’s point at all;
and even if we did
we don’t care that much about it
because it is only about a prophet.
We don’t care, for example,
about God raising up a new Moses
because we don’t really care about the old one.
we want our heroes and sports teams
to be the winners and the best.
We do not want other, lesser figures
compared to our heroes –
rather, it should be the other way around.
In religion it is an either/or game
with our heroes and mystics
the only ones to be followed.
Somehow we decided centuries ago
that unless our team holds the whole truth
and nothing but the truth,
then we got nothing.
So we inherited this story about
and turned into an allegory
about good and evil
and how Jesus
is more powerful than the devil.
Then, centuries later,
it became the allegory
that created the season of Lent.
The Church created and nurtured Lent
to provide a sustained period of self-reflection
It took on a very dark and demeaning tone
and for centuries
was a way of browbeating
one another and ourselves
because of our humanness –
as if we could be something else.
So we placed this Jesus-in-the-wilderness story
as the gateway to Lent,
and we have seen it through the image of temptation
and overcoming sin,
rather than the story that Matthew was telling:
that God has raised up a new Moses.
We did the same thing
with the Adam and Eve story.
We took that wonderful Jewish Creation myth
and turned it into a morality play
that somehow got sex involved
as something bad for us.
But Jewish midrash,
which is the body of historic Jewish commentary,
treated the Adam & Eve story much differently
than Christians did.
What Jewish storytellers tend to see and hear
in that Genesis narrative
is a story about the hierarchy of human need.
It might go something like this:
Once our essential physical needs are met,
and we feel safe and secure,
and we have love and affirmation,
then what we want is power.
There is nothing that makes us feel
Adam and Eve
leave the garden in search of an answer
to a question God won’t entertain,
and in search of a knowledge that God won’t give.
One little “No”
in an ocean of “Yes”
will drive us out of the garden –
even the Garden of Eden.
“It is just a story,” the rabbis might say,
but it is probably a story
each of us has lived out
one way or another in our own lives.
So here are two stories –
Adam & Eve
and Jesus in the wilderness –
that we were pretty doggone sure
we knew what they were about.
All our lives
we have been told that
Jesus in the Wilderness is about
the war between good and evil.
And all our lives
we have been told that
the story of Adam and Eve
was about forbidden fruit or sex
or some such thing.
Low and behold,
it turns out that neither story,
as told by the earliest storytellers,
was about those things at all.
What else is there we may have assumed
that might turn out to be mistaken?
Not just in the bible,
but in our lives?
We have many a paths
on which we could sniff out a new trail
that might take us to an entirely new understanding.
Are we brave enough to go there?
Lent is a good season
to try out some new thinking,
some new behavior,
some new assumptions.
It’s only five weeks long
so we know we can always turn around
and go back to where we were
if it turns out to be too stressful.
I invite us
to test out some new ideas,
turn over some old assumptions
and see what creepy crawly things live underneath.
Try on some new behavior
and see if maybe it fits better.
Try out a new relationship
and see what happens.
Stuff like that,
stuff that changes our perspective
and allows us to see old things
with new eyes.
Now where else in this world of ours
are we going to get such an invitation
other than a spiritual community
that makes it
to agitate and challenge
even while it loves and nurtures?
Welcome to Lent.