Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Proper 5 B - Sunday, June 6, 2021
Eden is the backdrop for this mythical account of human origins. Having encountered the crafty serpent, the man and woman now encounter, as if for the first time together, their Maker, walking in the garden in the cool of evening. Our reading begins, after the serpent has already deceived Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s command.
As a result, they do what many of us mortals would do: they hide. In fact, they hide so well that God does not seem to be able to find them. God calls out to them, “Where are you?” The man gives up their hiding place by responding to the question. He reveals his knowledge of their nakedness and the scene shifts from hide and seek to the blame game. He blames the whole thing on the woman, deflecting the attention to her. The woman gives an honest answer to God. “The serpent tricked me.”
In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the serpent is the world’s first theologian because it is the serpent who convinces humankind to exchange obedience to God for theology about God. If we think about God narrowly enough, we can distract ourselves into believing that we can think our way to salvation. Our knowledge becomes a means of self-preservation and protection, rather than a means of communicating trust in the living God. Theological talk is a dangerous enterprise when it seeks to analyze and objectify matters of faithfulness. Our anxiety arises from doubting God’s providence, rejecting God’s care, and seeking to secure our own well-being. The serpent succeeds in seducing humankind into believing there are securities apart from God. This still lies at the heart of our living in fear of God rather than in obedient trust. We think of sin as breaking a rule, but at heart it is a betrayal of trust and love, and it gets expressed in our shame at our very creatureliness.
To be like God, knowing good from evil would seem on the face of it to be a good thing. According to OT scholar, Samuel Terrien, the narrator’s intention in telling this story is simply to show “our lust for self-deification.”
No creature is guileless. Deception and self-deception appear even in paradise.
“Where are you?” is the first question that God asks in Scripture and, it is asked not just of the characters in this story, but of every one of us. “Where are you?” At once, the question assumes an answer—we are not where we should be—and poses yet another question—where should we be? We sense that there is an estrangement from our essential created selves that’s rooted in our alienation from God and gets expressed in behaviors that alienate us from one another. It’s not that the image of God in which we were created has been erased from our DNA, but that deep within ourselves we are not fully what we are meant to be, and we know it. Yet God cuts through our thick underbrush of words and ideas, calling out to us, “Where are you?”
These last decades have been marked by the exponential growth and sophistication of technology. The world is more connected than ever, but it may also be more distracted than ever. Technology can distract us from everything from our ability to have meaningful face-to-face conversations, to keeping our eyes on the road and off our screens as we drive. So, it is with our lives of faith. When moments of tension invariably arise in community, we get distracted by arguments, anxieties and self-interests, and so we cut ourselves off from community and, in turn, short-circuit the possibility of reconciliation.
To consider this question of where we are, we must discern where God is inviting us. One place to start is to take account of all that distracts us from living lives of faithfulness. Distractions look different for different folks, but their central characteristic is the same: they draw our attention away from focusing on the life-giving parts of our lives. We can become distracted in our relationships, our work, our desire for meaning, acceptance, intimacy. Even our sabbaths can become muddled with distractions about what we might be missing. Distractions draw us away from the places in our lives that afford us peace, joy, and love. Ultimately, they distract us from our life with God. The Good News is that ours is a God who, no matter where we hide, seeks us, calls us, and invites us back.
Today’s Gospel points to how family itself can be a distraction. No matter what type of family we come from, we had or still have a role to play within it. Jesus returns to his hometown to mixed reviews. He is confronted by those who are committed to maintaining domestic and religious life in the midst of troubled times. The only ones who seemed to provoke Jesus to intolerance are his family and the law-abiding scribes. For them, Jesus’ disordered love of humanity feels like falling into chaos, best symbolized by the demonic or insanity. People fear what they do not understand. Since people generally fear change in their own lives, the chances that they would support change in others is slim. We may think we know what is best for the other person but usually, it is what is best for us.
Jesus’ family attempts to get him under control, if not out of fear for his safety, at least to remove their own embarrassment because of his rising notoriety. This was not the only time that Jesus wrestled with his family or the religious authorities. In this passage Jesus is reminding them and us that those who take care of us, love us, nurture us, can also distract and bind us. They do this not because they are evil, but because they were captive themselves and had come to accept that this is how to find and maintain life.
Jesus challenged his Jewish culture when he declared, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). Insiders and outsiders are now defined, not by blood, but by commitment to doing God’s will. If we are to experience the gracious love of God, Jesus challenges us to expand our family by looking beyond our walls, our race, culture, denominations, socio-economic status in order to see our brothers and sisters and mothers. Doing the will of God often means leaving our comfort zones. We cannot do this alone. Jesus’ single-minded focus on God’s will is our model. It takes a strong person to become who God created them to be and to continue to make positive changes even when it puts personal relationships in jeopardy.
In the Epistle, Paul reminding us that everything human will perish, steers us to a hope that sees God’s presence, with the eyes of our heart, outside and inside us. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:6). We take comfort that the resurrected Christ lives in us creating a new solidarity with all of humanity, in its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection, allowing us to give up our self-absorption, and to live into the densities of human joy and suffering. Jesus comes to set us free from both our inner and outer captivities, so we can discover the freedom of the children of God.
May we listen intently enough to hear God’s voice and discern deeply enough to answer God’s call.