Expulsion from Eden, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.
[Jesus said] If a kingdom is divided against itself,
that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand. Mark 3:24-25
Today’s first reading is one of the most famous in Scripture, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, from Paradise. God had created them to live there in peace and happiness, giving one simple rule to live by, not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, they broke the law, and the rest is history. This chapter in Genesis should not be considered a page from the history book; it is much more than that. It is Scripture’s reasoning of why there is evil in the world when God created us to be happy and fulfilled. Consider the build-up to the expulsion. The serpent, a figure of evil here, tempts Eve into breaking God’s one rule. She eats the fruit (note there is no mention of an apple, just a fruit). Adam falls into the trap too. Immediately they hear God walking in the Garden and they hide from him, the one who had created them to be happy and content. Hiding implies they are alienated from God, the source of all happiness and hope. Next, when challenged by God, Adam says he hid because he was ashamed that he was naked, whereas before there was no such shame. This suggests Adam is now alienated from himself. When challenged by God as to what had happened, and if he had broken the one rule, Adam says Eve was the one to blame, she gave him the forbidden fruit. This implies that he is alienated from Eve, from his wife, his neighbor. The consequence of all that was that God expelled them from Eden, condemning them to a life of hardship and necessity, where the earth will only yield after toil and sweat and from which comes a universe of disease and suffering. In other words, humanity is alienated from nature. And so, therein lies all our misery, from these simple words in Genesis, showing the genius of Holy Scripture.
Consider: Alienation from self may lead to dislike of self, and the possibility of hatred of self, and ultimately the possible destruction of self, suicide, all of which is contrary to God’s will for us. Alienation from God, the source of love and hope can lead to hopelessness, and ultimately despair, the utter desolation of believing there is nothing worth living for. Alienation from one’s neighbor may lead to dislike of neighbor, hatred of neighbor and destruction of neighbor, murder. And alienation from nature may lead to famine, disease and starvation. It could be said that these few simple verses in the third chapter of Genesis are a rationale for all of the evil the world has ever seen. Hence the genius of this simple story allowing us to come to grips with hugely greater truths. Salvation history begins here, pointing the way back from the fall of humanity back to the restoration of friendship with God.
The ministry of Jesus fits neatly into this picture as the mirror opposite, destroying these alienations and restoring unity with God. This is why he points out the contradictory nature of the accusations made against him. How on earth can curing people and restoring them to physical and mental health possibly be evil? Surely it harks back to the perfect days of Adam and Eve in paradise. Isn’t this restored good health a reflection of God’s perfection and goodness? Satan would make these people worse off, not better surely? Jesus then talks of alienation when he declared that a house divided against itself cannot stand; it is doomed to destruction. And to condemn God’s Holy Spirit, the source of all unity, is to witness to ultimate alienation, where there is no hope at all. Finally Jesus talks of ultimate reconciliation, where not only his family are his brothers and sisters, but all who witness to God’s goodness are brothers and sisters in God’s family. In other words, Jesus points to another Paradise, one that awaits all who follow his path away from death, destruction and despair to universal love and life, ultimately confirmed in the triumph of the Resurrection which conquers the world’s evil seen in his passion and death. And all of us are invited to follow that glowing pathway to redemption, happiness and union with God.
Resurrection of Christ, Bellini, Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany.