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How many of you are parents? So, let me ask you an honest question: Have you ever exaggerated the truth to your child in order to protect them? For example, exaggerated the danger of a certain behavior: “If you jump on the bed like that you will fall off and break open your head.” Or, “If you eat another Brownie you WILL make yourself sick!” Or, “Don’t make faces like that or one day it might get stuck. Would you really want to walk around looking like that forever?”
Well, my mom was the master of these parental scare tactics. She was a single mother for much of my childhood and became adept at using fear to keep us in line: “Don’t you dare let go of my hand, not even for a minute, or you WILL be abducted.” (woah!) “If you go swimming right after you eat you will get terrible stomach cramps and drown.” (ahh!) Or my favorite: “Tamara, did you hear about that little kid who tried to fish a piece of toast out of the toaster with a fork? Yeah, he was electrocuted and DIED!” To this day I am afraid to get within a 3-foot radius of the toaster with any metal object. After all, what if I tripped? And while these warnings were not statistically probable outcomes of my naughty behavior, I didn’t know anything about statistics… so they were enough of a threat to keep me in line.
And I don’t fault my mom, after all she, was raised going to Catholic school where the nuns ruled the classroom with wildly exaggerated horror stories. My mom was well into high school when she realized that you could not, in fact, get pregnant just by kissing a boy. Fear was a common tactic used to keep the girls in line AND to keep them young and “innocent” just a little bit longer. But of course the problem is, when something is untrue, it is only a matter of time before your child realizes that their parents (or the nuns) didn’t quite tell them the whole truth. And usually it is someone else, someone clever or more experienced, who opens their eyes to reality.
Which brings me, of course, to our text for today—the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. And in this story, like in so many of our own coming-of-age tales, there was a character who encouraged Eve to take a risk that went against warnings she had received. Often when we tell this story we portray the serpent as evil—a tempter who TRICKS Eve into taking the first bite of something that got us all kicked out of paradise garden for good. But did the serpent lie to Eve? God had told the humans not to eat the fruit or else they would DIE. But that wasn’t exactly true, was it? And the serpent points this out to Eve—the fruit of that tree won’t kill you, it will open your eyes. And sure enough, she takes the bite and she lives…and she changes.
Which leads me to another quarrel with the way we typically understand this story. So in the previous chapter of Genesis we have this lovely story of God creating the human out of clay and breath. God then goes on to create the garden with each wonderful plant and tree INCLUDING the tree of life AND the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, going back to the parenting metaphor: if you had this new little being, almost like a curious toddler, who is bumbling around and learning about what it means to be alive and human, would you bake a giant chocolate cake or something else equally tempting and leave this young person unsupervised in the same room as that cake? It just seems a little weird, right? I know that there are lots of interpretations of this text, but this is always where I get stuck, if God REALLY didn’t want the humans to eat from the tree, then why did God leave them unsupervised with this tree dripping with luscious edible fruit? I wonder if eating from that tree was something God knew the humans might do all along.
So then why did God get so bent out of shape? My guess is that God knew the humans would disobey the warning and eat of the tree eventually, but it was still hard and sad when it actually happened. I imagine the disappointment being like the first time your child blatantly disobeys you, or lies to you, or tries to hide something from you. Even though you KNOW this will eventually happen, it still hurts. Because it is part of them growing up and asserting their independence.
Okay, so God creates humans and leaves them unattended with something that is super tempting—but it is something God doesn’t want the humans to have yet. So God—like many parents—makes up a story that eating the fruit will kill the humans… but then, the serpent tells Eve a different story: the fruit won’t kill you, it will give you knowledge. The serpent’s words cause Eve to see the tree differently. Suddenly she sees that the fruit is not only pretty and looks edible, she also sees that it will open-her-eyes. So Eve eats the fruit, and offers it to her partner Adam, who also eats the fruit. And here is where the story gets interesting…
I read a couple of biblical commentaries about this piece of Genesis. One of them was by a theologian named E.A. Speiser, who points out that Genesis is full of wordplays that we miss in the translation. The human, Adam, is made from the Adamah: the humus or clay. The word woman in Hebrew is Issah, and its root is the word for male Is—because in our story Eve is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. And then we have this word Arum. Arum can be translated as “naked.” But it also shares the same root as the Hebrew word for crafty, shrewd or subtle. So now when we look at the text it changes the meaning. “Now the serpent was more crafty (or more naked) than any other wild animal.” Later when Adam and Eve eat the fruit they realize that they too are naked—AND/OR crafty.
Before this, just like small children, they didn’t notice their nakedness and did not have any shame. But also before this, they were not aware of their crafty or shrewd nature. After eating the fruit they become self-conscious, as in: they become aware of themselves…Or, you could even say, they become self-serving. So they try to sew together some fig leaves for covering but then they hear God strolling through the garden and, well they… hide. Somehow they are not only self-conscious, but they are also ashamed for GOD to see them.
And then in our story, God asks Adam where he is and Adam says, “I was hiding from you—because I am arum: I am naked. I am crafty. And God says, “Who told you that you were naked or crafty? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And now, I want you to listen carefully to Adam’s response: He says, “The woman whom YOU gave to be with me, SHE gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Crafty answer, no? First he reminds God that God gave him the woman as a partner. Then he BLAMES the woman. Twice in one sentence Adam tries to take the blame off of himself. He has become self-conscious, maybe even self-preserving, and he uses his new-found craftiness to protect himself.
Now I am not sure how many of you have ever found yourself in this sort of pickle, but what happens when you sell someone else out to protect yourself? It doesn’t usually strengthen that relationship or engender feelings of trust and intimacy, right? So Adam has protected himself but, in so doing, had driven a wedge into his relationship with both Eve and with God.
Now this sounds really terrible. They went from being unaware of their nakedness or vulnerability while living in their perfect safe home– to eating form the tree, becoming self-conscious and self-serving, and selling each other out. And yet, as parents (or aunts or uncles) even though on the one hand you want your little ones to stay young and innocent, you also don’t want to send them out into the world completely vulnerable, right? You want your kid to stay open and vulnerable and trusting with you. But you don’t necessarily want them to go out into the world with their heart on their sleeve, trusting everyone they meet. And yet, that very shrewdness that keeps them safe in the world at large is also a burden. And this is, in my estimation, one of the core struggles with being human. We come into the world vulnerable but can’t remain that way if we want to live in the world safely. And yet, the coping mechanisms we develop to deal with this vulnerability, ultimately keep us at arms length from those we love. What a painful predicament to be in. You need the mechanism and yet it impedes authentic connection.
So what do we do? Last week I taught a workshop on the Enneagram—a personality type indicator. The idea is not to put people in boxes, but rather to help them see the box they are already in—the box created by their particular coping mechanisms. The purpose is not to throw out these forms of self-protection, but rather to draw awareness to them. Once people are able to see themselves: their anxiety, their defensiveness, their craftiness—then they get to control those behaviors rather than having those behaviors control them. They are still arum—both aware of their nakedness and crafty enough to cover that nakedness when they need to, BUT they can also see the ways that this craftiness might be keeping them from some higher purpose. Because, underneath each of our personality types there is a deeper essence that is connected to all other beings and to the Divine.
We are like Adam and Eve who ate of the apple, felt shame about their vulnerability, and became self-serving. Each of us realizes at a certain age that we can’t wear our hearts on our sleeves all of the time– we need to protect ourselves. And yet, when we become overly invested in protecting ourselves it keeps us away from truly loving or being able to receive love. So then, paradoxically we spend the remainder of our life trying to figure out how to regain that original vulnerability, trust, open-heartedness and wonder.
For me, this is not a terrible story about the fall of human kind. It is the story of being human—a story many parents can attest to having watched unfold. If we are lucky, we start in a garden of sorts: a safe and wonderful place where our needs are taken care of. Then one day we eat the fruit of temptation. We notice we are naked and become self-focused and crafty…and then we reminisce about and long for that garden where we can be authentically connected to one another and all of creation.
So, this Lent I want to encourage us all to remember this story. Not because we are hopeless sinners who have been kicked out of paradise for being evil. But because we are human—and we are ALL using compensation patterns to keep ourselves safe. Perhaps you keep yourself so busy that you have no time for authentic connection. Perhaps you are so absorbed in taking care of others that you ignore your own need for self care and spirituality. Perhaps you recede into your head, watching life from the sidelines but never fully jumping in. Whatever the case, I invite you to notice the ways that you are protecting yourself— patterns that keep you from fully experiencing love. That’s it—I am not suggesting that you fix anything or change anything. I am simply suggesting that you notice the ways that your craftiness might be causing you to hide from God and from those you love. Just by noticing it, you might feel your heart begin to shift. And you might get a glimpse of what it would be like to stand truly naked and unashamed before God once again.