We all have choices about who we will be in this world. It may not feel like it sometimes, we may feel suffocated by a job, a lack of finanical resources, a relationship or a system in which we feel trapped. But even in these situations in which we may feel trapped, we have choice. In making choices, we find our way forward. Sometimes to more freedom, and sometimes to more entrapment. It’s all about buillding discernment, the ability to make better choices.
But we live in a world in which “better” is not always true to form. Where the news is written primarily for “click bait” headlines and self worth is often defined by how famous you are or how many people are following you on social media. How do we know what is truly authentic anymore? How do we learn to tell the difference between what is truly good and what might just be posing as good? Both in ourselves and in the world?
When problems seem really big in the world, we can always return to something small to find the way. Stories point the way forward. We can examine stories to build discernment in a crazy time.
A big theme throughout stories is discernment. Just because we live in a technologically advanced society, the themes of humanity really haven’t changed much. We just have more of everything now. But some stories really hit on a nerve in our world.
So it is with the Eden story of the serpent who tricked Adam and Eve, and the story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil at the very end of his forty day fast in the wilderness.
In the first story, the characters take the offer, the offer that is always on the table. Be big, be famous, be legendary, be powerful, be the master of your own destiny.
The offer always comes at a time when the character is doubting themselves and/or God. This seems to be the time when the trickster comes, at a time when the character is vulnerable. The trickster plays on the character’s internal doubt: God? Where is your God, anyway?. Why does he have so many rules? Oh yeah, he doesn’t want you to be like him, knowing everything, having God power. He’s kind of selfish, don’t you think? If he’s so powerful, why doesn’t he solve all these problems here on earth? You really should take matters into your own hands. You really have nothing to lose.
And we see Eve and Adam fall for it. And of course, the serpent can’t deliver on the promise of “God power,” at least in the terms he presented, because, after all, it wasn’t a promise, it was just a sale, a trick. Instead, this “God Power” delivers some pretty awful realities. Adam and Eve enter into the great human saga of suffering and are shut out of paradise. Homeless, they have to make their own way in the world without all the resources of Eden. So they experience shame, guilt, vulnerability, all of those things we know so well from our experience of being human in the world. We can relate to them and the feelings of entrapment that come with these very real emotions.
But it’s tricky, really, to tell the difference between snakes and devils. In the ancient world, the snake was considered wise, a symbol of healing, renewal and fertility. It wasn’t odd for Adam and Eve to have trusted a snake’s wisdom. How do we tell the difference between snakes and devils?
In another story, with another trickster, we have Jesus, on the other hand, who resists a similar offer. Not once, or twice, but three times.
Even though many people were going hungry in Jesus’ community, he resisted the temptation to create enough food to feed them all in order to prove his power. He resisted proving the power of God just so the Devil would believe that Jesus is the real deal. He resisted inheriting all the wealth, fame and power the world had to offer so that he might become a legend in his own time. Why? Because all of these things, while it is arguable that he could have done a great deal of good, would have taken him away from his true mission.
He was on a journey of resurrection. A soul journey. He was focused on the choices that would enable him to complete his mission. And resisted the ones that would take him further away. From his choices, we learn his true character.
We are all on a soul journey, we each have a soul story. It’s difficult, much of the time, to figure out what brings us closer to or further away from our spiritual path. It is tricky to know how or when or even why to resist the offers before us. The offer comes in many disguises, this offer to become masters of our own destiny.
Jesus’ path helps to point the way forward, especially when things get confusing. The One who resisted the offer can point the way, a way we can trust, because it is always primarily concerned with genuine love, not tricks or sales. Jesus simply has nothing to sell, he is only peddling hope. By studying his path and meditating on that internal garden, that “kingdom of Heaven within” as Jesus said, we build faith in something substantial. We build discernment and learn to the art of making better choices. We learn to tell the difference between snakes and devils.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens.” –C.G. Jung
Love is the bridge between you and everything. -Rumi
Click here If you’d like to hear my homily, “The Difference Between Snakes & Devils” (13 minutes) from this week’s Tuesdays in the Chapel at Scarritt Bennett, Nashville.
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