Friday of Week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 3:1-8

Today, a passage full of meaning as we hear about the Fall of the Man and the Woman.

Everything that God had made was very good, including the Man and the Woman. Here, they are not given here the names “Adam” and “Eve” which we find elsewhere. They are not, strictly speaking, specific individuals; they are ‘Everyman’ and ‘Everywoman’, i.e. you and me. They lived in perfect innocence and happiness, totally without shame or embarrassment in their pristine nakedness.

But now sin enters the picture. The source of evil is in the guise of a snake. It is described here as “more crafty than another wild animal that the Lord God had made”. Probably few people really like snakes. They are perceived as slimy and sinuous and slither along the ground; they have those beady eyes and those poisonous tongues. Of course, in reality, many snakes are quite harmless and most have no interest in attacking humans.

Notice how the temptation works. The Tempter approaches the Woman. Is it because she is seen to be more vulnerable, more fickle, less reliable (solely a male view!)? It begins with an innocuous question which can easily be dealt with: “Is it true that God said you could not eat from any of the trees in the garden?”

The Woman replies:

Oh no! We can eat of any tree in the garden with just one exception. We may not touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on pain of death.

“Oh come, come,” says the Tempter. “You will not die. On the contrary you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.” What the Tempter said was true, but only partially so. They would not die physically if they ate the fruit, but their relationship with God would die, and they would eventually lose their immortality of life in the Garden.

And then they would indeed be able to distinguish good from evil because now, filled with guilt and shame, they would know what evil really was, and how they had lost the original goodness with which they had been blessed.

However, the Woman hears what she wants to hear. She takes a closer look at the forbidden tree and finds its fruit extremely attractive, in addition to the desirability of getting that knowledge (incidentally, the fruit is not specified…no mention of apples!).

We might notice here that real temptation always comes under the guise of some good. No one chooses something which is totally evil or bad. Whether we beat up someone, have sex, or steal, or put down another person – there is always some apparent good attracting us. “Revenge”, for instance, “is sweet.” But it is also very wrong. “Sex is fantastic”, but it can be highly degrading of both parties.

The Woman clearly understood that it was wrong to pick the fruit, but she was persuaded by the good things the Tempter had pointed out to her. They outweighed the commandment of God. The Woman then made her decision, picked some of the fruit and ate it. She also offered some to Man and he, equally aware of what God had said, ate some.

In this patriarchal account, there is an implication that the Man’s guilt is somehow, somewhat less. He might never have been tempted if it had not been for the Woman. It is the seduction of Woman that is Man’s downfall. However, because the Man is the original source of life, it is he, more than the Woman, who passes on the fruits of his sin to his descendants.

Then, what the Tempter had said became true: their eyes were opened, and they realised they were naked. In other words, they became aware of the wrong they had done and were filled with guilt and shame. So they hastily tried to hide their shame by covering their sexual organs with fig leaves sewn together.

Perhaps this is also a way of explaining the origin of our sensitivity about the intimate parts of our body. It is something which is very much a feature of the Old Testament, and has been picked up by both Christians and certainly Muslims, who, in some cultures, keep women covered from head to toe. But we also know that, in some warmer climates, there are people who go around without any clothes and are perfectly comfortable about it.

But the shame of the Man and the Woman went further. As God came walking in the garden in the cool of the evening (what a lovely image!), the Man and Woman did not dare to face him…they hid. Yes, their eyes had been opened but not in the way they expected. The “cool of the evening” is literally “the wind of the day”. On most days in Palestine a cooling breeze blows from the sea shortly before sunset.

Yes, the ways of the Tempter are very subtle indeed and we get caught again and again. This subject has been treated with both humour and insight by C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters.

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