For anyone unfamiliar with the word “paradox,” this is the term for a a statement which seems to contradict itself but actually points to a deeper truth. The Christian faith is full of paradoxes. The Gospel is all about how God hates sin but loves sinners. That makes no sense to the unbeliever, but it is the Christian's joyful hope. This Gospel is a far cry from the lying message which claims that God ignores sin and indulges sinners.
Today's reading from 2 Corinthians concludes with a series of magnificent paradoxes. Describing his own ministry, and by implication describing the ministry of the whole Church, Paul writes,
“as deceivers, and yet true
as unknown, yet well known,
as dying, and behold, we live,
as chastened, and not killed,
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,
as poor, making many rich,
as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
Although Paul was writing in his own defense, in the face of critics and detractors, in each step of the sevenfold series in this text, Paul was thinking of the Lord Jesus. In the desert of temptation, Jesus was falsely accused by Satan by pretending to be the Son of God: “If thou art the Son of God.....” In His earthly life and ministry Jesus was unknown, dying, chastened, sorrowful, poor, and having nothing. That was the route which led Him directly from the humiliation of His baptism with sinners to the shame and disgrace of His death on the cross.
If mankind or any human individual had designed for itself a Savior (or a god!), we would surely have come up with something very different. We would have preferred a god (notice the small g, which indicates a false god) which winks at sin, ignores evil, and shuns suffering. We would surely have chosen a messiah who was rich, successful, popular, entertaining, and undemanding. Because Jesus taught and lived the “way of the cross,” He was none of those things. The cross, so prominently placed at the threshold of our churchyard, stands as God's stern rebuke to all earthly notions of success.
Yet He is now acknowledged as true and well-known (“the Way, the Truth, and the Life”). Once poor, He has made us rich. Once “having nothing” (even stripped of His very garments), He is now Lord of heaven and earth. LKW
“Recapitulation” is a helpful word for understanding today's Gospel. To recapitulate means to repeat or re-tell; the current slang term “re-cap” almost expresses what we are talking about. The New Testament frequently presents Jesus as the One Who Recapitulates, the one who relives the history of His people. In His visit to Egypt as a child and in His Baptism in the Jordan, He was reliving or replaying the history of His Israelite people. He was particularly “re-capping” that history as He spent 40 days in the wilderness, as His ancestors had spent 40 years there.
But the recapitulation runs are deeper than just the history of God's covenant people, Israel. What we see in today's Gospel is a repetition of the very oldest story in the history of mankind, the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, that sad, moving and haunting story told in Genesis 3. Both stories involve the devil presumptuously making suggestions. To Adam and Eve he said, “Ye shall be as God.” To Jesus he said “If thou be the Son of God.” In both instances, in Eden and in the desert, Satan used a clever and insidious sort of logic. Adam and Eve were indeed made in “the image and likeness of God,” Jesus was indeed the incarnate Son of God, and the devil tried to use both facts to his own evil advantage.
But the recapitulation goes only so far. We know how the temptation of Adam and Eve worked out, with their tragic rebellion and banishment from God's presence, a sinful condition for all their descendants who sinned in them and fell with them, and misery and suffering for all mankind. But the temptation of Jesus has the very opposite conclusion: He rejects Satan's suggestions, resists the power of sin, and scores a decisive victory. J. H. Newman expressed this splendidly in Hymn 343: Stanzas 2 and 3:
O loving wisdom of our God, When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight, And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! That flesh and blood, Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe, Should strive, and should prevail.
Each one of us has chapters in his life which he would like to re-write, to tell his story with another conclusion. But thanks to the Gospel we are not trapped in the sad words of the Rubaiyat, “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.” In His victory over sin and Satan, the victory finished on the Cross, realized in His resurrection, but initiated in His temptation, Jesus has given each of us a new biography, with a New Life, having a new conclusion. When Jesus said, “Get the hence, Satan,” He proclaimed a new outcome and a new destiny for each one of us. LKW