February 26, 2023
The Garden of Temptation
Lent is one of those times when we traditionally think about faith and faithfulness. We ask what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? And wonder, “Have I been faithful to the way of God that Jesus espoused and lived?”
The Lectionary always begins Lent with one of the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that comes right after his baptism. His baptism experience had brought a moving and intense sense of God’s call and embrace. Now Jesus is trying to sort out what this call of God means, and what being faithful to it will entail. It is not so much a temptation as a self-assessment and personal quandary about what he will do with this call and where will it take him. It is his moment of discer4nment.
In a different way, Adam and Eve in the Garden story are sorting out their place in creation. They are testing the limits God has set on them. One might say they are testing the limits on human consumption. They succumb to the wily con job of the Antagonist of Humanity and though his con isn’t a total lie it does bring a kind of death. A death of the idyllic garden innocence.
Hebrew theological tradition was less about philosophical speculation and more about stories that could concretely and situationally explore religious truth. Most scholars today would say that both of our biblical stories this morning are from that rabbinical story mold. Like Jesus’ own parables, whether or not they are based on things that actually happened is beside the point. They are meant to point to truths that are relatable and understandable and can be thought about from more than one angle. Most scholars take both of biblical stories today, as those kinds of theological story constructs.
The Apostle Paul, for instance, uses the analogy to suggest that one way of understanding Jesus’ life is analogous to the 2nd Adam –who eradicates or counters the sin and failure of the first Adam.
Interestingly, Paul, who takes his lumps for his attitude towards women at times, never once mentions Eve’s part in things when he deals with this. –He puts all the blame on Adam when he talks about the creation story. –Perhaps it was because even though Eve was the first to eat the apple, Adam was the first to make an excuse and blame someone else. And if you look closely in the story Eve was not even created yet when God tells Adam not to eat from this special tree.
In the Genesis story it is Adam who blames Eve, God seems to apply equal responsibility. The first words of a fully conscious Adam, in the story, a person capable of understanding good and evil is, “It wasn’t my fault.” Certainly, symptomatic of human nature. Unfortunately, the church over the centuries has tended to buy into Adam’s dodge. —Some would say that is because men have been the primary writers, translators and interpreters of the bible and have guarded their role very well.
In any case, when dealing with the bible it is important to keep in mind the author’s primary purpose. While we may be playful with the text it is best not try to make any passage more than it was meant to be. I don’t mean one should not extrapolate from it and use the stories to ask a myriad of questions of ourselves. But we ought not, for instance, take this Creation story as a scientific explanation of how the world was created or that women are to have a subordinate role to men. It was not intended for that purpose.
If you do that you not only get into conflict with modern science you wind up with a whole host of complications:
Like –> If Adam & Eve were the only two people created where did their son’s wives come from? -> If God created Eve out of Adams’ rib, how come both men and women have the same number of ribs –Or one might ask –If Adam and Eve did not know the difference between Good and Evil before they ate the Apple, were they truly human, and could they really be blamed for making a wrong choice?
Well, the bible is not concerned with those details. The story is not meant to be taken that literally.
The ancient Hebrews were not concerned with “science” as we think of it. They were not even concerned with comprehensive mythologies. They were concerned with God’s intentions or agenda for humankind. What does God expect of us.
As O.T. scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it in his commentary on Genesis:
“Israel is concerned with God’s Lordly intent not his technique.”
Brueggemann suggests we take the creation story neither as historical fact nor as creation myth –but as Israel’s faith proclamation that God is at the center of things with an intention that humanity live in caring relationship with –the rest of creation, with each other, and with the Creator.
He goes on to say:
“The bible is not interested in abstract or theoretical questions like how evil came to be, or death came into the world—but its concern is the summons of God to faithful living. …. Human destiny is to live in God’s world -and with God’s other creatures, and not in a world of his/her own making.”
As such, the creation story of Adam and Eve shows, the mandate for humanity is to care for the garden… Literally to “till it and keep it” The words suggest both the task of the shepherd and the gardener or vineyard keeper. —It is hardly as some have suggested then, a license to scourge and pillage the earth and the rest of creation.
The gardener and the shepherd both have to have the interests of what they are caring for prominent in their thinking. They always function with one eye towards protecting, preserving, maintaining, and enhancing what they care for. Short sighted gardeners or shepherds don’t last very long.
It is the assumption of Genesis that humanity’s chief vocation is caring for God’s creation and living in community.
Genesis says, humanity has failed at both from the very beginning. Community breaks down when creation is not respected. That’s what happens in Genesis with the second sin, when Cain kills Able.
The Creation story clearly gives a wide range of permission, the garden is to be enjoyed, tasted, experienced, but there are limits, boundaries beyond which you should not go. –Not everything can be consumed. –Not everything should be considered subject to human interests, whims, or available for our consumption and perceived well-being.
Humanity always pushes at these boundaries and is always dying to know what is the real boundary and what is just the perceived boundary. –In part it is the nature of our freedom. –Humankind is the one creature with options! The one creature who can make choices based on long term consequences.
The soul-searching Jesus does in the wilderness is about his own options. -How far will he go in committing himself to God’s plans?
Creation in Genesis has a moral center, and a beginning point we call God. Everything exists because of and for the sake of the Creator.
Humanity is part of that creation, and yet has the unique responsibility of shepherding that creation; living in Covenant with God and each other.
And yet, God has given us the power of free will, to accept or reject the limits and responsibilities of that kind of covenant…. But rejection of God’s intention brings its own consequences and downfall.
Choosing between God’s way or what seems like the enticing possibilities we haven’t tasted yet is not a once and forever thing. Jesus, in counterpoint to Adam, passes the test where Adam failed.
Lent always asks us to think about our own decisions, faithfulness and priorities: to think about the3 choice we make. –May God strengthen you in your soul-searching this Lent.