Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. The first reading at Mass this weekend puts before us the story of Adam and Eve. For centuries, it was believed that the story of Adam and Eve was a historical account of how human beings were made and became our first parents. This theory was thrown into crisis when it was discovered that while the book of Genesis was written in about 950 BC, it is estimated that the first members of the human family lived in Africa about 6 or 7 million years ago. Does this mean then that the story of Adam and Eve has no value? Of course not. On the contrary, it has great importance because it reveals to us how we are to relate to God and how this relationship between God and us humans became corrupted. And as St Paul tells us in the second reading, we humans have been living with the consequences ever since.
So, what then does the story of Adam and Eve reveal about God and about us? Well, the story is set in a garden, the Garden of Eden that is symbolic of life and where things flourish and grow. There in the garden are Adam and Eve who share in the fullness of life that God has created. We are told that they can eat of the fruit of almost every tree in the garden which is symbolic of us humans sharing in the abundance of God’s life. But then comes the curious warning. Adam and Eve may not eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden which is the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This means two things. First about life. Being forbidden to take from the tree of life means we may not usurp the role of God in giving life or taking it away. Only God is the giver of life and only God can take it away. We humans can only accept the gift of life, protect it and co-operate with God in bringing new life into the world. Only God is the true author of life and because he is, God remains the central reference point for how we live and how we die.
The second point is the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. What this means is a warning not to take God’s place or to play God in deciding by ourselves, without reference to Him, what is right and what is wrong. It is a recognition that some things are right and wrong in themselves and not just because we decide what is right and what is wrong.
Ok, so there is the warning. But see what happens. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve exactly along these lines of argument. He says ‘well of course you can eat of the tree of life! You will not die. Of course you can eat of the tree of knowing good and evil because when you do, you will know good from evil and become like gods’. But see here what happens and how the devil works. He tempts Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word and then encourages them to disobey it, to take the place of God with the false promise of becoming gods themselves and to become competitors of God instead of partners with God as He intended.
Friends, this is how the devil tempted Adam and Eve in their time and how he tempts us today. We could draw many parallels with our world and the examples from history when humanity has taken the place of God in deciding who lives and who dies. We could quote examples of when legislation has come into effect because of human decisions without reference to God or the natural law. For now it is enough to remind ourselves how Satan has always tempted us to mistrust the word of God and to displace God from the centre, to play God ourselves, be our own masters deciding who lives and who dies and to be our own legislators of what is right and what is wrong. This is not what God wants. He does not want us to be competitors but to be partners in sharing the gift of his life and to listen to his Spirit deep in our conscience so that we might come to know what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false, what is temporary and what is everlasting.
On this first Sunday of Lent, the story of Adam and Eve takes us back to a basic fundamental of our faith of who God is, who we are and the fruitful friendship that we are called to live with him in trust and joy that leads to the fullness of life.