MEMORIAL OF SAINT SCHOLASTICA, VIRGIN
Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Psalm 104:1-2, 27-30
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent
All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
One of the great mysteries of Judeo-Christianity is why an all loving, all-powerful God would create a tree of knowledge of good and evil, a “test” that could be failed with such dire consequences for the entire human race. One explanation is that God had to give His creation the full freedom to choose Him and obey Him, as He wishes to be loved freely, not because it is the only option. Another point to consider is that God intended to give man to eat of the tree of good and evil, but in God’s own chosen timing when man was able to receive it, and man was supposed to trust and wait for God rather than take it for himself. This is an explanation explored in C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra”, in which the first created man and woman in a parallel newly created world are given a different command of “thou shalt not” by their Creator. It is later revealed that, had the man and woman transgressed the commandment, they would have been unable to receive all that God had for them, and that trusting God and learning to accept His reasoning over their own was part of the process. So whether the tree of good and evil was a literal tree or a symbol God communicated to the writers of sacred scripture to help them understand the origin of original sin, the point is that God created man for good things but gave him the freedom to choose bad things for himself if he really wanted. Though the choice should have been obvious, we know how the rest of the story goes.
Perhaps one reason the forbidden fruit illustration of sin resonated so with the Jewish people was that they had a rather thorough list of things they were allowed and forbidden to eat. Like the fruit of the tree of good and evil, foods that were on the unclean list were thought to have the actual power to render the person who ate them unclean, leading to separation from their community and separation from worshipping and offering sacrifices in the temple until their situation was remedied. Hence, Jesus’s declaration that it is not unclean food that makes a person unclean must have seemed to fly in the face of what His hearers had grown up believing. But by having forbade them from eating the unclean foods in former times, God was perhaps teaching His people, giving them a framework they could relate to in order to understand sin and its destructive power in their lives. Now that Jesus has come, He replaces the former commandment with the new understanding.
In our final week before Lent, we may be thinking about what we are or are not going to do, eat or not eat, come Ash Wednesday. These Lenten observances can be important and powerful ways for us to experience in our bodies and our day-to-day lives new understandings of our sins and shortcomings, and how God wants to heal and strengthen us and make us more loving and giving like Him. But our scriptures remind us that these outward things are not an end in themselves; we need to invite Jesus into our hearts to do the real work.
Today, let’s examine our consciences in preparation for Lent, and face the things in our hearts that are harming us and our relationship with God and others. Let’s embrace the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist to be cleansed on the inside, and by consuming our Lord to receive His life and love within us. Let’s trust God with the things we don’t understand and wait for Him to show us the good things He has for us in His timing.