we are. Again. It is the beginning of the church year. Again. We
start anew with the stories. Again. For those among us who have not
attended to the church’s liturgical calendar before, I apologize. It
is a wonderful rhythm of life, and I hope you will be enriched by
living into it. Personally, I’ve been attending to the church’s
liturgical calendar for decades, and been leading worship in the
liturgical seasons for more than a decade and this is a year where
starting over again takes some energy.
last year hasn’t been easy AND there is fear of what will come in
this coming year. Often I’m frustrated with the rather depressing
texts that accompany Advent, I don’t want to start in the darkness.
This year I’m ready and willing to admit that there is much darkness
in the world and that I, too, yearn for the light of God to break in.
Ironic, isn’t it? This is the year I’m forgoing those depressing
Advent texts to continue the Subversive Women sermon series?
Subversive Women chosen for Advent are intentional though. I’ve
always loved the idea that we start the Christian year in unity with
our shared history with Jewish people, reliving the period in our
shared history when we waited for God’s messiah to change the course
of human history. I also love that we do this in a season of
darkness (for the Northern Hemisphere – I’m quite sad about how
poorly all the metaphors of the liturgical year work in the Southern
Hemisphere and struck that this is yet another experience we have of
privilege). Anyway, I love that we start the year in darkness, and
in the waiting, and in our shared history. I love that the quietness
of Advent contrasts with the frenetic pace of consumer culture around
us; creating a pause, a pregnant pause. Along with waiting with the
Jews, we also wait with Mary in the last month of her pregnancy.
is, I really love Advent. And it is with delight that I offer you
this text for us to play with today. What better way to start the
Christian year and re-start the telling of our faith story than to go
back to one of the stories of creation? And, what better place to
start than the woman called “life” itself, Eve? (Yes. Eve means
“life.” Subtle, huh?) After all, she has been accused of
ruining human life on this planet in multiple ways, so she MUST be at
least a little subversive.
is an old, old story. It is in the voice of the Yahwehist, the
oldest of the four voices found in the Torah. It is a story trying
to make sense of the world as it is, and there are a lot of
explanations going on. It is trying to make sense of the human need
for interpersonal relationships. It is trying to make sense of human
capabilities exceeding that of other creatures. It is trying to make
sense of the labor necessary to stay alive. It is trying to make
sense of the experience of separation from God. It is trying to make
sense of the power of love. It is trying to make sense of the human
desire for knowledge.
not sure it succeeds at any of these tasks, but I appreciate noticing
that these huge questions of why things are the way they are was
already bugging people thousands of years ago, and they were
struggling to find answers just as we are today. The existence of
the questions they were trying to answer makes me feel more united
with the tellers of this story than the story itself does. Which
isn’t the story’s fault. It could be a perfectly adorable myth if it
hadn’t been used to support the subjugation of women and the
Christian obsession with “sin.” However, it has been, which
makes me squirm all over again when I read it.
and a half years ago I preached on this text and explained in detail
a theory of it that had changed everything for me. To my delight,
when we got to this text in our Bible Study, people remembered that
theory – it changed everything for them too! Some of you were here
then to hear it, and some weren’t, so I’m going to split the
difference and briefly share the theory again.1
the Ancient Near Eastern people believed that you could either be
immortal or reproductive. Furthermore, sexuality was linked to
reproduction, THUS it was linked to mortality. If you are going to
live forever, you don’t need to have children as your legacy, and you
don’t need to be a sexual being. If you are mortal, and you are
going to die, you get to have children. This was a common motif in
Ancient Near East stories (this is the area that the ancient Jews
were from). None of the garden narratives in the Ancient Near East
have any children in them. Gardens are places for IMMORTAL, ASEXUAL
beings. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
transformed Adam and Eve from being immortal, asexual beings into
mortal, sexual beings.
might notice that the text says directly, they were naked but “not
ashamed,” which indicates they didn’t have sexual awareness of
their own bodies to begin with. As the wise Catholic priest who
pointed this out said, before eating, Eve and Adam seem to be “zero
on the passion meter.” Sexuality is activated ONLY when they ate
of the tree. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is really
the center of it all. What do we know of it?
for some reason
makes one like God (3:5) “like one of us” (3:22)
are opened and see nakedness (sexual awareness)
one wise (3:6)
produces a concern that the one possessing it not live forever.
else do we know about the phrase “knowledge of good and evil”
from the Bible? Deuteronomy 1:39 teaches us it is something that
children lack, Isaiah 7 calls it a sign of maturity. From 1 Q
Samuel 1:9-11 (Dead Sea Scrolls) “He will not approach a woman to
have intercourse with her until he has attained the age of twenty
when he knows good and evil.” Hmm, this is clearly about sex. In
2 Samuel 19:36 An old man is being invited in for wine, women, and
song. He responds “I’m 80…. and no longer potent, deaf, and not
experiencing the joy of food.” …. also “knowledge of good and
evil” as something an old man loses.
sexual potency, sexual maturity, sexual appetite seem to be implied
here! Then, the tree is an aphrodisiac. The premier aphrodisiac in
fact, as it brought the humans from zero sexual appetite to “normal”
rather than from weak appetite to stronger appetite. This is a story
of awakening to normal sexuality. In that case, the serpent is a
fertility symbol offering this knowledge. After this story, Eve
called mother of all things! It is because of the eating of the
fruit of the tree that all other humans exist, within the framework
of this story. And all hearers of the story in all times should be
grateful to her for eating it! So, then, why was the tree forbidden?
Because immortals do not beget.
this new understanding of the tree, the
punishments about pain in childbirth, and man lording over woman,
FIT. There is no fall, as much as Paul and others have made of it,
and there is no original sin. The couple is making a journey UPWARD:
they become aware, wise, and mature in full adult human stature.
started off like children and come into full adult status.
that an interesting creation story? It is a story that tells how we
became reproductively capable, sexually aware, adult humans. This
creation story includes the creation of future generations of humans.
It is a much more interesting story than it initially appears,
right? Personally, I’m rather grateful that they ate of the fruit
and gained sexual maturity because within the constructs of the
story, NO OTHER HUMANS would otherwise exist, and I rather like
few other notes on this story, particularly for those who have heard
it used in other ways. Adam (whose name means both “human” and
“dirt”) and Eve (whose name means “life” and “life-bearer”)
were in the garden together and the serpent speaks to Eve while
Adam is also present.
Only Adam is told NOT to eat of the tree, and yet when Eve responds
to the serpent she assumes that it applies to her as well AND she
strengthens the command. The first version was “of
the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in
the day that you eat of it you shall die”. Eve tells it like this,
“God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in
the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”
She adds the touch. Isn’t that how humans work? When we really
want to keep a rule, we make rules around the rule in order to make
keeping the rule easier.
is aware of the risk, but the serpent tells her, “You will not die;
for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and
you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” AND she looks with
her own eyes. She sees that “the tree was good for food, and that
it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to
make one wise.” She listens to the serpent AND she takes in
awareness from her surroundings, and she decides that risking death
is worth having knowledge (and sexual maturity, let’s be clear). It
is almost as if she is a prepubescent girl choosing to become a
woman: there are big trade offs in that choice, but there is goodness
in being an adult.
this week that we celebrated Thanksgiving, taking days apart to be
grateful, and remembering a shared meal between generous native
people and overwhelmed frightened immigrants, it is worth remembering
this ancient story being grateful to Eve who is said to have chosen
knowing, and growing up, so we all can exist. We can also be
grateful to Eve and her choice throughout Advent as we wait for
Mary’s baby to come. All of the babies who have been born, within
the constructs of this story, exist because Eve chose knowledge and
maturity over staying in the dark. We take her light into these dark
else do you think about Advent?
else do you notice the contrasts of light and darkness, and what
meaning do you make out of them?
do you do to avoid being pulled into the frenetic pace of consumer
Christmas, and back into the quiet reflection of Advent?
you heard this theory before or not, how does it change your
relationship to this story – and to Adam and Eve?
I like the idea of Eve considering the serpents ideas, taking in
awareness of her surroundings, and deciding for herself that
knowledge was worth it. How does her thoughtful consideration
change the story?
does it mean to be grateful for sexual maturity, and to consider our
creation myth to be about that?
does God’s love get reflected in this story?
follows is reworked from “The Garden: We Have it ALL Wrong”
preached on 3/9/2014. That knowledge came from Father Addison
Wright during a lecture series at “Ecumenical Scripture Institute”
at Sky Lake in 2011 on the first 11 Chapters of Genesis.
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305Pronouns: she/her/hers
November 27, 2016