The story we hear from the Book of Genesis this Sunday is certainly familiar. However, being familiar with the story does not mean that we understand it. Actually there are some prevalent misconceptions about this story.
Oftentimes, we refer to this story of Adam and Eve as the Story of the Fall. This seems to imply that Adam and Eve originally enjoyed some kind of supernatural status from which they were reduced. However, the Scriptures consistently speak of Adam and Eve as human beings, not supernatural beings. We also sometimes refer to the story as the fall from grace. This cannot be accurate either because it wasn’t until the Christian era that grace was recognized as a state of being from which one can fall. All things considered, it is better to read this passage simply as a story about sin without adding on interpretations of our own.
The nakedness of the couple is also often misinterpreted. They seem to be ashamed of their nakedness after they have sinned. Why? The Hebrew word that is used to describe them before their sin simply means “uncovered.” A different word is used to describe them after they sin. It means “exposed.” Both Hebrew words are translated into English as “naked,” but there is a big difference between being uncovered and being exposed. When Adam explains why he had hidden from God, it becomes apparent that his shame is caused not by his nakedness but by the fact that his guilt has been exposed.
After the sin the guilt of the man and woman is not only exposed, they also seem to be unwilling to take responsibility for their fault. Each of them blames another. The woman tells God that she was tricked. However, she was not tricked. The serpent had told her that if they ate of the fruit of the tree, they would know the difference between good and evil. That is exactly what happened. They had been tempted, and they gave in to the temptation. We all know what that is like. However we, like they, are often unwilling to accept responsibility for our sins. Like the comic character of Geraldine from the late 60’s, we claim “The devil made me do it.”
Finally, we hear God consigning the serpent to crawl on its belly where it will eat dirt for the rest of its days. However, God adds that one day the offspring of a woman will crush the head of the serpent with his heel.
How does this story speak to us today? We do not have to live long before we realize that we are participants in a constant struggle between good and evil. We see it in the world at large. Good people war with one another. Unjust economic systems that were set up to help people now exploit the vulnerable. Groups committed to various goals demean those who disagree with them. In our families we sometimes encounter infidelity, abuse and alienation. Within ourselves we struggle with addictions, resentments, and even perhaps despair. We, the offspring of the woman in the garden are in constant enmity with the offspring of the serpent.
Do the Scriptures offer us any hope?
In today’s Gospel reading we hear people claiming that Jesus, who is the very personification of goodness, is out of his mind and that he is in league with the serpent whom they call Beelzebub, the personification of evil. What makes these claims even more terrible is that some of it comes from his family. They have witnessed Jesus using God’s power to cast out demons, to heal, to bring sinners back to God, to do all sorts of good things. Rather than admitting their own sinfulness, they demean the only innocent man who has ever lived. It seems like evil is winning the struggle. They prefer evil over good.
However, we know and we believe that by his death, Jesus has defeated sin. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. It is Jesus, the offspring of the woman, who crushes the head of the serpent. Only by building our lives on the foundation that is Jesus can we ever hope to win out over evil. However, that means that we must take responsibility for our sins. We cannot follow the example of Adam and Eve by placing the blame on others. We are responsible for the sin that exists in our world. Only by allowing Jesus to cast out our demons, to confront our addictions, to heal our resentments, to break through the walls of alienation in our lives can we ever hope to conquer sin in our lives. He is, after all, the only human being who has ever defeated sin.
When we build our house on the foundation that is Jesus, we will finally experience the victory that Jesus accomplished when he rose from the dead. As people who have placed their faith in Jesus, we must continually confront the evil in our world, especially the evil of our own making.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator