Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin with the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Shortly after eating the forbidden fruit God called to Adam. Adam was afraid because he was naked which proved to God that he ate the forbidden fruit. When asked, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. God cursed the serpent to spend his life crawling on his belly and eating dust. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus gathered with his disciples but his relatives decided that Jesus was out of his mind. The scribes claimed that he was possessed by the devil. Jesus responded by telling them that the evil spirit can’t cast out evil spirits. When his mother and brothers arrived Jesus told those gathered that only those who do the will of God are his mother and brothers.
This may shock some of you, but sometimes following Jesus calls us to break the rules. Most of us were raised with the belief that the rules governed us: stand in line, wait your turn, don’t interrupt or speak out of turn. Previous generations were even told that “if you keep the rule, the rule will keep you.” Following the rules ensured our safety and kept our relationship with God intact.
But what if discipleship means breaking the rules sometimes? When we think about the rules that govern our lives we normally don’t ask for their origin. We all know about the ten commandments and have a vague understanding that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, lists other rules. And frankly, we often use the Old Testament rules to enforce beliefs that we already hold.
But if discipleship in Jesus tells us anything it tells us that we are called beyond obedience. Children know how to follow rules, but as adults we should do better. We should aspire to faith.
Mark’s Gospel gives us a roadmap. Today’s reading comes from the middle of the third chapter, nearly the beginning of his work. Mark did not waste words, and in the first two and a half chapters Jesus called and selected his inner circle. He cured a man possessed by an unclean spirit, Peter’s mother in law, a leper, a paralytic, and a man with a paralyzed hand.
After that you’d think he would be revered, or at least appreciated. But he wasn’t. Instead he faced opposition that we can only assume was jealousy.
We’re not sure who constituted “his family” but we know that they were afraid of his decisions. They lived in a world where obedience ruled their lives and those who disobeyed the rules suffered. You’d have to be crazy to break the rules, and that’s exactly what they thought about Jesus.
And if that weren’t enough the scribes doubled down and claimed that Jesus was able to do good by harnessing the power of evil. That sounds crazy but it’s likely evidence of how threatening Jesus’ ministry was going to be to them (and they were right).
But let’s also look back on the first reading with these same lenses. I have to believe that everyone recognizes the scene: God forbade Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of one tree lest they die. The serpent persuaded Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and Eve persuaded Adam. God found out about this because Adam attempted to hide his nudity.
Almost universally we’ve been taught that this was a bad thing, the “original sin.” Had Adam and Eve obeyed God, everything would be fine and we’d all still be living in the Garden of Eden.
On the other hand….I find it interesting that God’s question to Adam was: “Who told you that you were naked?” But look closely at a previous verse: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”
Only humans wear clothes, only humans cover up our nakedness. Animals don’t. I think it’s worth questioning that eating the forbidden fruit was a mixed experience. When the serpent was persuading Eve to eat the fruit he said this: “God knows well that the moment you eat of it you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.” Non humans don’t know what is good and what is bad or even that they’re naked.
Perhaps eating this fruit gave them (and us) the ability to reason, the ability to form a moral compass. This reason has given us the ability to understand God, or at least seek to understand God. It’s given us the ability to love God and love one another. And it’s given us the ability to treasure our past and plan for our future.
The authors of Genesis chose interesting downsides to this: women will suffer in childbirth and men will toil to get food. Though I’ve not had firsthand knowledge it appears that animals don’t experience protracted labor pain and animals don’t plant or grow crops. At the time farming was much less efficient than it is today and it was extremely difficult to raise enough crops to feed your family, and stories from the New Testament show how difficult and dangerous it was to make a living by fishing. Perhaps if they were writing today they would talk about the difficulty of cancer treatments and climbing the corporate ladder.
From the perspective of planet earth the events in Genesis were problematic. Our gift of reason, it can be said, has given the earth a much larger human population (due in part to our understanding of the need for clean water and our discovery of antibiotics). Our gift of reason has also given us the power to pollute our air and water and to change our climate.
But reason has also given us the ability to learn from our mistakes, to create a world that can feed a large population, clean our air and water, and decrease our carbon footprint.
As someone who treasures the ability to love God and each other, I’m actually grateful that Adam and Eve broke the rules and ate the forbidden fruit.