Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Lectionary: 89

The man replied, "The woman whom you put here with me; she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it."



Not for the first time, the MeToo movement has rightly demanded fair and equal treatment of women in all our affairs.
There is a tradition in Christian societies of anchoring the unjust treatment of women in the third chapter of Genesis. Woman, it is said, caused the fall of Adam; and therefore, women for all time can be blamed for our sinful world. In Catholic tradition, the story of the Virgin Mary's accepting God's Word and becoming the Mother of God is seen as a vindication of Eve, and perhaps all women. But that reading only reinforces the guilt assigned to Eve in the first place.
Turning to the text of Genesis, it should not be hard to recognize how badly this tradition has skewed the author's intent. Adam responds to God's question with, "The woman whom you put here with me...."
A literalist might say, "That sounds reasonable to me. God gave the woman to the man; she offered the Forbidden Fruit to him." Literalists have dominated Christian theology, liturgy and moral teaching for many centuries. At one time they regarded all story-telling that was not "factual" as lying. Fiction had no place in their reading. If it wasn't literal truth, it was falsehood.
When they read that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, they wondered which kind of whale might have a stomach so large as to allow an adult male enough room to breathe and compose a lament while he's in there. Was it
a humpback, sperm, or blue? If they read that Noah left the ark on Mount Ararat they climbed the mountain looking for relics. If they believed that Jesus said, "This is my body..." they hoped an atomic microscope might prove that consecrated hosts are not like unconsecrated wafers.
When the Enlightenment spawned the modern scientific enterprise literalists fought mightily to prove their reading was scientifically verifiable. When it was discovered that dinosaurs lived millions of years before the first human beings evolved, they said God had planted those fossils during the seven days of creation to test our faith.
They cannot read irony. Literature and the arts are based on the principle of irony. A statue made of marble is not a human being even when its torso, arms and face overwhelm us with subtle suggestions of motion and expression. An actor is not the character he presents on television.
Literalists get upset about that. Many people thought Carroll O'Connor was Archie Bunker. Strangers accused Jim Backus of infidelity when he went out to eat with his wife Millie; they thought he was married to Natalie Shafer, who played Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island. "If it's not literally true," they suppose, "it's lying."
So when they read Adam's reply they say, "That sounds reasonable to me. God put the woman in Eden; she offered the Forbidden Fruit to him." They do not hear the irony in the text; they do not see the Divine Author's wry smile or detect the writer's subversive intent.
But if we dismiss the literal reading and reapply the element of irony, we should be appalled at Adam's gall. He not only disowns his own responsibility; he effectively divorces his wife and blames God for putting her there in the first place. The child who attempts such a reversal of blame on his parent faces double punishment for smart mouthing; the employee can expect to be fired.
In the wisdom tradition of the Bible, foolishness is blameworthy. The fool is a sinner; the sinner is a fool. Adam has dug his own grave with his stupid reply. He has betrayed his wife, the delight of his eyes; and stood in judgement over God.
But literalists have dominated the reading of the scriptures for centuries. They had their reasons for doing so -- men in particular. It is easier to blame women than to assume responsibility for one's guilt. The powerful act to protect their own power, and the best defense is a good offense. Reversing blame confuses the conversation; it cancels any attempt to reveal the truth. Adam's accusation of God shows his utter contempt for Fairness or Justice.
It's unfortunate that many women, accepting the literalist reading of Genesis 3:12 denounce the story, the Bible and religion in general. Not only do they miss the irony, they dismiss the Yahwist author, one of their greatest allies in history.
There is, however, another level of the Divine Author's message which makes him no friend of the MeToo movement. He knows Adam's ploy is typical of both men and women; for no sooner has Adam blamed the woman than the woman blames the serpent. Evasion of responsibility is deeply embedded in everything we think, speak and do. Lying is at least as traditional as speaking the truth. Some people defend their abuse of women as cultural, meaning that it's normal, natural and the way God intended it. The Yahwist knows this sin will not disappear in the face of better education, consciousness raising, enforced legislation, or widespread shaming.
Only God can save us from ourselves and when Adam defies God with his stupid remark he slams the door against his only hope.
We celebrate Jesus because, as the Son of God, he has come to live with us. As the Son of Mary, he speaks to God for all of us, even for Adam and every man who thinks like Adam. He does not defend himself before the false accusations of his enemies. With a cheerful obedience that Adam cannot imagine Jesus carries his cross and dies with us. He bears our burdens and carries our grief. He enters the sanctuary of heaven with an acceptable sacrifice, in reparation for our sins.
Standing with us in our guilt, shame and remorse, Jesus teaches us to accept, even to embrace, our sinfulness. Abuse is who we are; molesting is what we do. Harvey Weinstein is my brother; I deplore what he has done but I cannot disown him. I am appalled at what pedophile priests have done to our children; but as a priest -- and with Jesus Christ as my vindicator -- I stand accused and guilty. I have inherited all the privileges of white men in America; I cannot refuse to accept the responsibility that comes with white privilege. As Jesus carried his cross and Saint Francis embraced Poverty, I must renounce the entitlements I take for granted.
With Jesus we ask God to send us the Spirit of Wisdom which will recognize how we have sinned. In grace we hope to reverse these evil traditions and so regain communion with our victims.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.