Wednesday of Week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17

We have a very different creation story today. This section is chiefly concerned with the creation of Man, the human person. It is much older than the narrative from which we read yesterday (Gen 1:1-2:4) and comes from the ‘Yahwistic Source’ rather than the ‘Priestly Source’. It is not, as is sometimes said, a second creation narrative. Rather it focuses on the creation of Man as distinct from the creation of the world, and is only complete with the separate creation of Woman and the appearance of the first human couple.

Here God is depicted as creating Man before the rest of his creatures, which are made for Man’s sake. It is not realistic, but this is not history, and certainly not science. The meaning is to show the priority of Man in the order of things on this earth.

On the day on which the Lord made the earth and the heavens [the vault of the sky with its heavenly bodies], there was as yet no plant of any kind because no rain had yet begun to fall, nor was there anyone to till the ground until a stream rose from the earth and covered the whole ground with water, on that very day the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the earth and then breathed into the nostrils of the inert body the breath of life so that the man became a living being [literally a living “soul”].

The picture is of God working like a potter moulding the human body out of the clay of the earth. In the Hebrew there is a play on the words adam (‘man’) coming from adama (‘the ground’).

In this version of creation, humanity does not – as in yesterday’s reading – appear at the end of a long process of creation when all the lesser creatures were brought into being first, but comes into existence at the very beginning before anything else, even before the plants necessary for his survival.

Only then did the Lord God plant a garden in the east, in Eden (note: the garden is not Eden but in Eden). In this garden, he put the Man. In the garden he also placed every kind of plant that was pleasant to look at, and provided fruit that was good to eat, As well, there was the “tree of life” (a symbol of the immortality which the Man was intended to enjoy) and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.

The name “Eden” is used here as the name of a region in southern Mesopotamia (southern Iraq today), but does not actually correspond to any known site. The term comes from a Sumerian word eden, meaning “fertile plain”. A similar-sounding word in Hebrew means “delight” so Eden is understood as a “garden of delight”. Through the Greek translation of the Hebrew, we get the word “Paradise” which literally means a “pleasure park”.

The man’s responsibility was to cultivate the garden and look after it. The man was also told that he was free to eat nearly all and any of the plants in the garden (including, apparently, fruit from the “tree of life”). The overall impression given is that life was easy and exceedingly pleasant.

But there was one special exception. The man was not to eat the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Otherwise he would be doomed to death. Eating the fruit, as we shall see, did not bring about instant death. After eating the fruit, they survived, but death would come as the end of a miserable existence of toil and sorrow. Sin, by separating us from God, can only lead to death.

The Man was master of his world, but with this one exception, it was made clear that God was master of the Man and that this relationship would be acknowledged by the Man obeying this command of the Lord God.

The whole world is God’s gift to us but we need to remember that we have to enjoy it responsibly and not do it harm. Also, we need always to conform our living to that vision of life that we have received from God through Jesus Christ and his Word. For us, Jesus and his Way is truly a tree of Life.

I have come that they may have life, life in abundance.

(John 10:10)

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