The first reading for Sunday June 10, 2018 is the story of “The Fall” by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, (Genesis 3:8-15). The larger context of this passage is Gen 2:4 – 3:24, the second creation story. It describes how God created man and woman and prohibited them from eating the apple of knowledge of good and evil.
The serpent, who is Satan, then quizzed Eve about why she couldn’t eat the fruit. She told the serpent, 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… 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.
This morning’s passage begins just after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze… God had created the world and delighted in his handiwork so much so that he spent time walking in the garden. The passage confirms the earlier pronouncement in Genesis 1:31 that, God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
But when they heard God walking, the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?” God wasn’t asking a question. He was expressing his disbelief that, with all the good food they had at their disposal they chose to break their relationship with God by taking the forbidden fruit.
The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Most biblical scholars regard the creation story in this passage as an assemblage of myths and legends of the Israelites to explain the origins of humanity and the presence of evil in the world. They also think that it was written down in its present form about 1,000 years BCE.
But there is more to the motivation for finally setting it down in writing than “it seemed like a good thing to collect the myths”. In the ancient Near East serpents were venerated by many cultures. In particular, it was a symbol of the Canaanite fertility goddess Ashera. Having a snake as a symbol of evil made theological sense as a way of separating the Israelites from the culture and worship of their nearest neighbours.
This passage became significant in New Testament times as people came to see Christ as the “New Adam”, redeeming humanity from the consequences of The Fall, represented in this story.
The Evil One plays a behind-the-scenes role in this morning’s gospel (Mark 3:20-35). After spending 40 days in the desert, Jesus had recruited apostles, taught, cured sick people and driven our daemons in Galilee. His fame had spread rapidly for all these works, and the crowd came together again, so that they (the disciples) could not even eat… And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
To the people of Jesus’ day Satan was a real, but unseen presence who inhabited people or pigs and made them do bizarre, violent or blasphemous things. Driving our daemons demonstrated significant power.
A number of biblical scholars have looked what the evangelists described as “possessed” behaviours and wondered if there were some other explanations, such as epilepsy or prior head injury that could have caused the actions that were seen as daemonic. Regardless of the medical nature of the affliction the fact remains that Jesus cured them.
The arrival of the Scribes from Jerusalem to observe Jesus indicates how far his reputation had travelled. Jesus tried to persuade these Jerusalemites that he was not Satan by showing the logical error in their thinking. One gets the sense that he was pleading with them more than arguing with them to see the miracles as evidence of God’s grace working through him.
These two scripture passages suggest a number of questions.
• What is the forbidden fruit of your life? What temptation do you have a particularly hard time resisting? Do you look for rationalizations for giving in, or blame others, like Adam did?
• What is the nature of evil? Is Satan a person? A snake? Can a person be possessed? Is evil more impresonal, like a weakness, or a spiritual predisposition to sin?
• Do you think that some of the Scribes from Jerusalem might have been persuaded by the combination of Jesus’ miracles and his logic? Do you think that they might have seen him as a man of God?