Regarding the account of the fall of Adam and Eve, we know it. In the age of reason, we often get bogged down in details. Did it happen just as the inspired writer presents it? Is it just a pagan fable borrowed for the Jewish Scriptures? Were these characters historical, real, or both? Or made up? My concerns in this post are less with the findings or musings of Scripture scholars and more with the interface with the Rite of Penance and its liturgical setting.
Nineteen verses are a lot for a liturgy. Tomorrow’s holy day is a bit more selective, using just verses 9 through 15. With the passage that follows, I think we can discern a familiar pattern–familiar at least to those of us who are sinners. Let’s look at three aspects.
Verses one through seven describe the temptation and the offense:
Now the serpent
was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden’?”
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees
in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it,
lest you die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well
that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened
and you will be like gods
who know what is good
and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food
pleasing to the eyes,
and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband,
who was with her, and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they knew that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.
What follows with verse eight and afterward is the consequence of the fall. This, too, should be familiar: the blaming and evasion and denial–as much as is possible in the presence of God.
When they heard the sound of the LORD God
walking about in the garden
at the breezy time of the day,
the man and his wife hid themselves
from the LORD God
among the trees of the garden.
The LORD God then called to the man
and asked him: Where are you?
“I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid,
because I was naked, so I hid.”
Then God asked:
Who told you that you were naked?
Have you eaten from the tree
of which I had forbidden you to eat?
The man replied,
“The woman whom you put here with me—
she gave me fruit from the tree,
so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman:
What is this you have done?
The woman answered,
“The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”
Then the LORD God said to the snake:
Because you have done this,
cursed are you
among all the animals, tame or wild;
On your belly you shall crawl,
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;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.
To the woman he said:
I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.
To the man he said:
Because you listened to your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
you shall not eat from it,
Cursed is the ground because of you!
In toil you shall eat its yield
all the days of your life.
Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you,
and you shall eat the grass of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
The third aspect isn’t included in the Lectionary. Verse 22 of Genesis 3 reads:
The LORD God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them.
Even though the author views God as inflicting punishment, the mercy of God peeks through in even the most depressing and discouraging of the Scriptures. Leaves of the fig tree aren’t quite adequate, so the Lord provides animal skins for warmth.
Likewise, when we have failed, the experience of many of the saints and spiritual writers of the Church is that God treats us with tenderness, welcoming us back into his love when we have forsaken it.