What went so very wrong?
Genesis 3.1-19 (NRSV)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but 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 the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and 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.’ He 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 is this that you have done?’ 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.’
To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.’
And to the man he said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
“You shall not eat of it”,
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.’
Matthew 13.24-43 (NRSV)
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Origins or where we come from are important. They help us to understand who we are, in the rise of humankind towards ever increasing technological, economic and social sophistication, superior to all that has ever gone before us, where it is possible to live in a virtual world. A world where you can create and recreate yourself many times, as well as the worlds you live in, means truth and reality can become distorted.
The Bible in Genesis tells an “origin story” which is very different and takes us back to the creation of the world and everything in it. And it maybe never more important than in this time of environmental crisis and of struggle to save this beautiful God-given planet: Earth.
These reflections on the Season of Creation began rightly in the first week with the words from Genesis 1 “in the beginning…”
They remind of us of the word of life we hear every Christmas Eve, when we recall how God became flesh and lived among us in his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
“In the beginning…was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.”
In our reading form Genesis 3 we hear of a world that was bountiful and given freely, and it was in no need of human genius to control or improve it. Humankind were embedded in a living biosphere with a divine appointment as caretaker, in intimate relationship with the Trinity and the whole of creation.
Adam, because he has speech, is given by God the ability to give each living being its name. Woman (ishshah in Hebrew), is created from the body of man (ish). This is an equal relationship of solidarity with each other.
But then…we hear how a tragedy happens to rupture and break this primal intimacy and relationship of the garden of Eden – known to many as ‘the Fall”. The human being (Adam) and the mother of life (Ava) conspire to defy the one thing they were asked not to do – to grasp for and eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, of both good and evil.
We hear that the beautiful relationship they had with all of creation in the Garden of Eden, where they were always in Gods company as he walked with them in the garden, is now broken. It is very moving, sad when we hear God calling to his beloved “where are you?” And instead of them being in communion, walking together with God each day, they now hide from God.
Notice it was not God who left Adam and Eve, but they who through their rebellion and not behaving rightly to the environment have now left the intimacy they had with God and with creation. They leave the bountiful garden, freely given where everything they ever needed was provided and go and work and toil on the land.
One theologian suggests that this drama could also be understood as an “Ancient Warning Story” for the world today. I remember going to Kennedy Space Centre when our children were young and watching a film about planet earth from pictures taken from space and you felt like you were actually on the spacecraft. I had never seen anything as beautiful as our planet hanging like a beautiful sphere in the blackness of space.
The colours were so bright, shades of blues the sky and seas and brilliant greens of vegetation and trees and the white of clouds swirling. I felt elation and as small as a grain of sand at the same time. Then the commentary asked us to look: “can you see the plumes of smoke rising?”
Looking closely I could. We were told that they are the fires caused by logging and land clearance. That they could be seen from space brought tears of great sadness. What are we doing? Suddenly our beautiful planet earth seemed so fragile in the vastness of the darkness of space. I went from elation at the beauty to heartsore lament.
That was about 32 years ago. Today even in that short time in the great scheme of things, we are all now experiencing the effects, some more than others of what we are doing to this beautiful earth. The Amazon and many other forests cleared , the loss of so many species of plants from which we get medicine for life, extinction of animals as they have no place to live or to find food, and the very lungs of the earth are choking. Covid 19 affects our lungs: is that what it is like for the earth too?
There is a water scarcity and food crisis for many in poverty and war is leaving the land lifeless and barren. Many countries are facing the devastation that the weather is bringing as climate change rages on and floods and fires, as in Australia bring more suffering and loss.
Our beautiful oceans are filling up with plastic and marine life suffering. And we have little children and adults who toil day after day extracting minerals from the land for a pittance all for our technological consumption. It brings us to our knees in lament, but it also requires us to do something.
St Cuthbert said: “We lose our relationship with creation because we have lost sight of the creator. If we loved the creator, we would learn to love creation.”
Pope Francis says, “It’s very clear many things have to change but it is we as human beings above all who need to change”. He is also convinced that “we lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future shared with everyone”.
They are voices in the wilderness calling us to repentance to remembering that we are not God. This beautiful creation this earth was given freely to humankind to be good stewards and to keep it, not to have dominion over it. We are being called back into a relationship of mutual responsibility between humans and creation – back to our roots, to relationship with God Father, Son and Holy Spirit and so with all creation.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find God in Jesus our Saviour walking and speaking with those who toil on the land, who plant and grow. Jesus uses stories about the soil, seeds and weeds, about the land so they would instantly recognise what he is saying. To help them hear the message of salvation of hope and a new future.
He calls them to hear and receive the word, to recognise their idolatry and simultaneously calls into being a new people, a renewed Israel, a returned from exile people of God. They will be the renewed Israel. What he was saying to them through his seed parables envision the kingdom of God not as some otherworldly place and time, but as the reclamation of the very soil upon which the oppressed poor farmers toiled.
When we are faced with devastation, injustice and the appalling suffering of creation, some people might ask well if there is a God why doesn’t he stop it? God reminds us that everything he made was good, remember it was not God who left Adam and Eve they left God and the beautiful garden, of their own free will.
Humankind, as we can see, forget God and then greed, power, over consumption, injustice and all the things that cause the problems we face today happen. God delays because if we look closely at ourselves how we live, our choices and actions, we might find that we ourselves are part of the problem.
This means if God were to end the worlds suffering now, we ourselves would be included. God in his tender mercy delays judgement, for he has many more still to call. Because of God’s mercy, both weeds and wheat grow together as we heard. They are not pulled up in case some of the good wheat gets pulled up with it.
Jesus, God’s own Son, came to earth to open his arms and embrace the worst of human suffering in his own frail body. He took the full weight of Adam’s curse on his body on a tree and cried out “it is finished”. Only in Christ do we find forgiveness peace and hope for the future for ourselves and for all creation. We can turn around and sink roots deep in the soil of his love and sow and plant and grow instead of destroy.
Jesus shows us that the kingdom starts small then grows like a mustard seed. Even large trees start small. He reminds us that when we represent God’s kingdom and live in love and peace with all creation it will grow until multitudes from all peoples will rest in its shade.
Associate Hub Leader