February 8, 2017
At the time when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens—
while as yet there was no field shrub on earth
and no grass of the field had sprouted,
for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth
and there was no man to till the soil,
but a stream was welling up out of the earth
and was watering all the surface of the ground—
the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.
Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,
and he placed there the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow
that were delightful to look at and good for food,
with the tree of life in the middle of the garden
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The LORD God then took the man
and settled him in the garden of Eden,
to cultivate and care for it.
The LORD God gave man this order:
"You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden
except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
From that tree you shall not eat;
the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die."
- Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17
Our recent daily Mass readings have us on a trek through Genesis, and as I read today's first reading, I tried a simple exercise: I tried to be as aware as I could of the assumptions I was carrying with me as I made my way through scripture.
I once heard an enlightening talk about the many (infinite, really) levels of reading scripture: literally, from the perspective of the author, connecting prophecies to their fulfillment, putting yourself in the position of the intended audience, etc. One of my favorites is removing any context and seeing what new meaning comes to light for me. (At the risk of stating the obvious, I will reiterate that this is only one lens of reading scripture; as a Catholic, strict Biblical literalism will leave you sorely disappointed and really just confused)
Back to today's reading. As we make our way through the Genesis creation narratives, I noticed myself carrying a sense of foreboding, and as that was happening doing so I was losing sight of the Garden. The beauty of creation, the splendor of the garden, the freedom of Adam and Eve. I simply wasn't savoring any of it, and instead I was doing something akin to spoiling a movie for myself. Everything before the Fall is moot, isn't it? Since we all know the other shoe's going to drop (btw, check out the fun note on the etymology of this phrase HERE), I was skimming through the reading, looking only for the bad news. Bad habit to have when reading the Bible.
Take a look at today's reading at the top of this reflection: How many of you really read and savored the first 21 lines? Did you just jump to the last 3? Why, then, would all this ink be spilled about the beauty and awe-inspiring creation and Garden anyway, since it's just gonna be messed up?
Once, hearing a talk at a men's retreat from a Brother of Hope, he used a phrase that seemed almost scandalous to me:
"We are living in God's Plan B."
Think about that. We are not living in creation as God originally intended it for us. My cradle Catholic mind went nuts. How could that be? Are you saying God's not in control?! Who are you to say God even needed a Plan B?
Now of course this much-smarter-than-me and much-holier-than-me brother was right, and of course my questions were overblown. God, goodness Himself, could not have been the origin of sin or the Fall. It came from Adam and Eve in their humanity, not from God. That means Eden, as it was originally created, was meant for us. The verses and verse of awe-inspiring descriptions of the pre-Fall world and creation are describing the existence God wanted for us! Kind of changes how you read Genesis, right?
So while we know that things didn't play out as planned, this realization gave me license to read Genesis as a love letter, a promise and a demonstration of my worth in His eyes, rather than a disappointment where I felt vicariously guilty for the Fall. And, when we finally get to that fateful bite of apple, we can turn our focus from God's provision (Eden) to God's mercy (Jesus). In His omnipotence, he redeemed and covered our sins in a more powerful and intimate way than we could have ever imagined: He gave us His Son as divinity made flesh, married to humanity, and perfect in mercy and love.
Praised be Jesus Christ, who supersedes our humanity and shares with us the life of God.