And the Source of all Being commanded, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’Genesis 2: 16-17
As I pondered the readings from the First Sunday of Lent, I reflected on what this says to us about humankind. The reading from Matthew’s gospel was in conversation with the readings from Genesis and Romans. The focus was on the temptation of Christ Jesus in the wilderness. (Readings: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7. Romans 5:12, 17-19. Matthew 4:1-11). The way to think about the temptations of Christ is to think of this as a testing. Temptations are challenges that reveal both our weaknesses and our strengths. For myself I realize that when I am challenged by something in my life, and in my weakness, I fail the test, that challenge will come around again to give me another chance to pass. In other words, if I learn from past challenges, I grow stronger and can face new challenges with a stronger faith. If I fail the test, I find I must take the test again.
Now, as I consider the reading from Genesis, when God placed a test before the first humans, what is revealed to us who hear the story, is a basic human weakness that persists down through our history. The first humans were tempted by a desire to know good and evil. In other words, a desire to judge and measure, and pass judgment. They wanted to be like God and set themselves up as the decision makers, the judges, and rule makers. For example, they next decided it was evil to be naked. But God warned them that judging, evaluating, and measuring themselves or others will lead to death. Humanity, embracing this weakness instead of overcoming it, developed into a race of beings who are constantly judging other human beings. The basic structure of hierarchy and patriarchy start here. War starts here. Violence starts here.
In chapter 4 of Genesis, death comes just as predicted by God. Cain kills Abel because he judges that God is more pleased with Abel than with him. He compares himself to Abel and cannot abide feeling less favored. He becomes so angry about the situation that he kills the one who makes him feel less favored. Sadly, he shows no remorse for his actions. He had a need to see himself as the one on top and the one most favored. He chose to adjust the situation by getting rid of Abel so he could be without a rival.
Hierarchies, patriarchies, matriarchies, rankings, pecking orders, class systems, and all such domination systems started with this weakness. Humanity was tested and our weakness discovered. People acquiesce to the situation and accept being dominated, for subconsciously exists the knowledge that you could be killed, just like Abel, if you do not submit. For death has entered the world.
I believe that God, through the authors of these stories, was letting us in on the pervasive weakness of humanity that God seeks to cure. It was not God’s plan for us to rank ourselves and devolve into sexists and racists. It is not God who divides us into caste systems. It is God who says to us, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1). It is the Spirit of Christ who teaches Paul to write, “There is nolonger Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Christ Jesus comes as the cure for human weakness if we will but follow him. Humanity continues to be tested today, and the test will keep coming around until we pass it. We are all created in the image and likeness of God and as Christians we are called to a radical equality. Christ gave us an example of what this looks like by washing the feet of his disciples, placing himself in the role of servant, even as he claimed his place as teacher. We need to figure out how to do this, too.
My beloved ones in Christ, when tempted to think of others as less than ourselves, let’s pass this test and treat one another as equals in Christ.