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If we can read this great, old story with fresh eyes, it has a lot to say to us about becoming who we are meant to be.  This story from the first book of the Bible reminds us of a children’s fable.  A snake is talking to a man and woman living in a garden; trees have special names, like “Tree of Life” and “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”  But don’t let the genre fool you; this story is laden with ancient wisdom.  Our ancestors often read this story and reflected on the “fallen nature” of humans.  It might be better to say that this is a story about how, even from the beginning, humans couldn’t quite seem to really take flight and ascend to their true selves.

The Story

When the humans eat the fruit of “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” their eyes are opened, we’re told, and they become aware that they are naked.  Prior to that moment, they had not noticed.  The author is pointing to that time in human development when humans grew in self-consciousness (every human goes through this) and realized that they were other than the Great Mystery, from which they had emerged, and that they were therefore vulnerable.  They were ashamed of who they saw themselves to be.  This vulnerability introduces fear and mistrust between us and the Great Mystery and between us and one another.  This in turn occasions the fearful avoidance of human potential.  They were like the child who initially grows in self-awareness and concurrently grows in the beginnings of doubt that love and wholeness will be there.  To say, to be living in a deep awareness of life

Like God?

The talking serpent said that if they ate they would become like God.  Did they?  They gained a kind of “awareness.”  But there are different kinds of awareness.  If I am aware that I am naked, that is to say vulnerable before the world, that is not the level of awareness that we are meant to achieve.  True awareness is to know that I am both other and connected, opening up the possibility of not living in fear.  To know that I am both other than God and yet participating in God’s own life is to really have awareness.  With this kind of awareness I am in communion with God and in fact understand that I am like God, sharing God’s own life.  This is awareness.  Saying, “I am screwed up, and others cannot be trusted” is not true awareness at all.

Good and Evil?

The person who is full of shame is the one who very often wants to shame others.  Their understanding of “good and evil” is to “know” all the ways that someone else is evil!  This is not true knowledge; this is true smallness.  True knowledge of good and evil does make us like God because we respond out of a heart bent on justice and compassion—like God.  When we see true evil our heart recoils, and we fight it.  We’re not belittling the neighbor we can’t tolerate; we are reaching out to the one who is suffering.  Injustice and unnecessary suffering are evil, and (when we live in God) we move against them as if God herself were moving against slavery in Egypt. 

Fixing or Covering the Shame

In the story the man and woman do not move away from shame; they cover it up by sewing fig leaves together.  It is as if they have all they need right in front of them but cannot seem to fly.  For those of us who use the stories of the New Testament to give further meaning to our lives, we see Jesus, for example in tonight’s story about his temptation in the desert, standing tall in his knowledge of who he truly is down deep.  He does not cave.  He does not believe that his hunger, his powerlessness, or his lack of fame mean that he should be ashamed of himself and/or that he is disconnected from his God.  It takes a giant act of trust to believe that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that I am loved and empowered by One who may be Other but whose life I am in fact living.  We are not alone.  We are loved.  We are participating in something very awesome and eternal. 

 

Sts. Clare & Francis

Saturday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; Genesis 3:1-7

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by saikofish on flickr.com

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