First Thoughts on the Lectionary: March 9, 2014

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.   And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

  

Here are some thoughts on this passage.

 When my children were young I read many stories to them from other cultures about how the world came to be what we now know it to be.  These stories were mainly from Africa from indigenous American cultures.  They were fun to read. 

 As I looked at the Genesis text, I thought I would read it the same way I read those other stories.  What part of our existence is this text trying to explain?  There seem to be two things which this text is trying to account for:

 –        All life is impermanent.  We will all die.

–        Humans have the ability to know right from wrong; good from evil, and have the ability to choose between them.  They have agency.

 I really find it fascinating that the life/death phenomenon is so closely linked to the agency phenomenon.  When we got the one – the moral knowledge, we paid the price of being impermanent.  I’m not sure quite how they are linked, but they certainly are in this story.  I’ll have to think about that more.

 I have always been troubled by the proximity of the words sin and death, as though they were the same thing.  In this story, sin and goodness are linked with life and death.   It is the knowledge of good and evil that is paid for with life ending in death.  But it doesn’t seem to me that the story says that Eve and Adam died because they sinned.  It says that they would eventually die if they knew what sin and goodness were.

I do not read in this passage what the apostle Paul reads:

 Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin….

 First of all, there were two people that ate the apple, and it wasn’t sin that came into the world through this act, but the knowledge of good and evil.  If that knowledge came to Adam and Eve in this act, then the decision to eat the apple came before they had knowledge of good and evil, and therefore they could not have sinned. 

I wonder about the state of Eden prior to this incident.  Would people go on living forever?  If they had children, and those children had children, would not world population exponentially overcrowd the earth within a few centuries?  I bring up this point because we act like this birth-growth-adulthood-decay-death pattern is a bad thing, when it is actually a very necessary thing.  I think our lack of acceptance of this pattern leads to some very unhealthy living practices.  Our economy is an example.  We are stuck in a pattern of continual growth that will surely lead to doom because we crave life, and more of it.  We are trying to live in the pre-apple Eden.

 Last Sunday our preacher talked about how the Celtic tradition thought that our essential nature was good, not evil.  Afterword I told him that I had heard several Christians defend Capitalism, saying that our natures were essentially selfish, and Capitalism used that knowledge to create a greater good out of the individual evil.  I told our preacher that I was pleased with this Celtic understanding.

 I think calling this story “the fall of man, or humanity,” is a wrong reading.  This story is an explanation of who we are.  We are people who live and die.  We are people with agency, the ability to choose God; to choose right or wrong.  That is what this story tells us.

 One final thought on the lectionary.  Further on in the Romans passage, Paul tells us of what God, through Jesus now offers us:

 the many will be made righteous

the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness

the free gift  ,,, brings justification

the grace of God and the free gift in the grace

I love these words of the apostle.  But here are some passages from Psalm 32, also in today’s lectionary.

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity.

 but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD… Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

 It is always interesting to read the Bible.  Sorry to leave out the temptations of Christ, but this has gone on too long as it is.

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About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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