September 20, 2015
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 2
Rev. Pam Serdar
Mark 3:1-6; Genesis 2:4-25
Ah! The second creation story. The first, which we examined last week, is a glorious hymn of praise, an ode to creation and the Creator God written in rapturous awe and glory. The second story, which we read today, is different. Truly different—different feel, different order. Different. Probably older than the first story. And no, we are not called to reconcile them by getting ourselves all in a knot. They are different because they are stories emphasizing different understandings of God—different aspects of the creator and humanity—created as part of a cosmic dance of stardust and word, or created out of mud. Neither story is meant to be scrutinized for technical scientific accuracy, but for wisdom about God and the human condition.
The first creation story portrays God as speaking creation into being, poetically and almost magically, like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, above and outside of it all. The theological word for God in the first story is transcendent—beyond all limits of human capacity. The second story portrays God as a farmer, dirty fingernails and all. God scoops up some fertile topsoil (adamah) and water and makes a mud-baby (adam), a human, the same root as humus and humility. Then, God breathes life into the mud-baby’s nostrils. God plants a garden, and grows trees. Then God puts the human (adam) into the garden to farm it and to take care of it. God speaks to the human, and seems to have compassion for it. God tells the human to eat its fill of the garden, well, all except for the tree-of-the-knowledge-of-good-and-evil. God decides that the human should not be alone, and in this story the human truly is alone—there are no animals even. God sets out to provide a helper for the human. God scoops up another handful of that same fertile soil and makes another animal—maybe, an….odd-toed ungulate, an herbivore, with thick protective skin, about six feet at the shoulder, and weighing about 2 tons. And God proudly says, ”so, human, I’ve been thinking you look lonely. Do I have a surprise for you—someone I think is just your type. What do you think? Would this be a good partner for you in the garden? I call it Lola, but you can call it anything you want.” Adam rubs his chin, and says, “Um, God, I think you ought to take another look at my Match.com profile. Lola’s a lot bigger than me, and that horn looks kind of scary. I think let’s call it rhinoceros, and um, I think I’ll keep my status “not in a relationship.” So God keeps trying, making animals out of mud and breathing life into them and presenting them to the human: iguanas and ostriches, walleyes and cheetahs, camels and grizzly bears. And the human doesn’t meet any creature he considers a “ten” or even a “two.” So God slips the human a mickey, removes a body part and uses this body part to fashion a woman. (The body part is usually translated as a rib, but we really don’t know what it is, because the Hebrew word is only used in that passage, and nowhere else.) Then God shakes the human’s shoulder to wake him from his coma and says, “Ta Da! How about this?” And Adam’s eyes pop out of his head like a cartoon character’s, and Adam calls her woman. Now that’s more like it! In Hebrew, she is ishshah to his ish. As an aside, “the word used as helper, or helpmate or helpmeet in some translations is the Hebrew “ezer.” The word “ezer” is used 21 times in the Hebrew scriptures. Three times it refers to vital human assistance in moments of extreme need; sixteen times it speaks of God’s direct assistance to human beings; and twice it is applied specifically to Eve, the human female.” (Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in The Divine Feminine.) The woman is not a subordinate role as has often been assumed by the church. Being created after the male is also not subordinate—in Genesis 1, both are created in God’s image, and higher orders are created successively, so the female, if anything, would be the crowning achievement, so to speak. And so we leave them, ish and ishshah, naked and unembarrassed, in the garden. A cliffhanger—tune in next week. . .
This view of God in the second Genesis story of creation, in theological terms is “immanent”: God is present in and with the created order. God walks around, makes humans of dirt, plants a garden, makes animals, and even goofs up in presenting potential mates for the human. He is the George Burns kind of God rather than the disembodied-James Earl Jones-voice kind of God of Genesis 1. Both are valid images because we experience God in both ways (and more ways, even). It’s a great story!
Both stories have in common the understanding that creation is good. We hear: people are good, in fact, they are made in God’s image, formed by God’s hand, and breathed into life with God’s very breath. Genesis 2 gives us the foreshadowing that there is potential for something to go wrong—death—if the human eats of the tree-of-the-knowledge-of-good-and-evil. Interesting that, in the story, the humans are not told that they are not to eat of the tree of life. More on that next week.
Let’s skip to the passage we just read in Mark, the parallel text in the gospels, the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. This sets up an interesting quandary. We see Jesus going against what is essentially the interpretation the Temple is using to decide what can and can’t be done on the Sabbath. One of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Reading that passage, you can see where, if you take it strictly literally, if you see an ill or struggling person on the Sabbath, you may think that nothing should be done for them until the next day. This is a very literal interpretation that still happens in synagogues, churches, mosques, and just about any place of worship and tradition. For example, a friend of mine took a group of folks to a synagogue on the Sabbath, and at the information area, asked a question. He pulled out his pen to write the answer down. He was quickly informed that writing was considered work on the Sabbath, and he needed to immediately stop and put the pen away. We may laugh at that (his confirmation class sure did), but we all have particular rules that I’m guessing others roll their eyes at, but that we take very seriously. Most of us would say that Newer Testament texts which say for example, “Love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” would take priority, and of course you would heal someone the Sabbath. Jewish and Christian hospitals, for example, don’t shut down on the Sabbath. Just a few verses down, in Exodus 22:21, we read another example, “Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.” Somehow, nations, even those who would claim to be Christian, don’t as a rule take the same understanding of that passage in either the literal or the “love your neighbor as yourself” sense. Interesting.
So we return to Genesis 2. The story tells us that we have choices to make in life. Whether we literally understand it as eating from the wrong tree, or metaphorically that our eyes are open because we, as humanity, are blessed and cursed with the ability to know and do both evil and good, the result is the same. We make choices in life, and we can choose for good, or choose for evil. Sometimes our capacity to choose good is based on all the decisions of our ancestors that have come before us, and are less under our control than we might like, based on our life experience.
I wonder about the interpretation of “thou shalt honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, and do no work.” Evidently Jesus wondered about that too, and came to the conclusion that healing is a holy thing. It may be work, but bringing people to healing and wholeness is a holy thing, no matter what day of the week on which it is done. From very, very early on, really from the beginning, Genesis 2 says, we have had the ability to know the difference between doing good and doing evil. That ability to know and to choose is one of the characteristics of God that we wield to our peril, particularly if we then take what we think we know and use it against another. It is not the death of the body that always occurs, although it can, but the death of the soul that happens when we take that power of discerning good and evil, particularly about another person or group of people, without the perspective of the unconditional love of a gracious Creator.
The story is still as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago: if we choose to take on that power of the knowledge of good and evil, and act like God, we (or someone) will surely die. We think of the photo of the little boy from Syria who washed up on the Turkish shore. We just have to consider death row statistics: about 1,400 death row inmates have been executed since 1976. We don’t know how many of them may have been innocent because after a prisoner is executed, the courts do not entertain explorations of innocence. We do know though, that as of June 8, 2015, 155 death row inmates have been exonerated in that same time period. Are we OK with a minimum of a 10% error rate? Evidently as a nation we are. Just that statistic in and of itself says to me that the Genesis story tells us something very critical about humanity that was true when that first person asked, “Why is there so much evil in the world?” And someone said, well, let me tell you a story….. Amen.
Mark 3:1-6 (CEB): Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. 2 Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. 5 Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy. 6 At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus.
Genesis 2:4-25Common English Bible (CEB)
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
World’s creation in the garden
On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— 5 before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, 6 though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— 7 the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. 9 In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river flows from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first river is the Pishon. It flows around the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 That land’s gold is pure, and the land also has sweet-smelling resins and gemstones. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It flows around the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris, flowing east of Assyria; and the name of the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17 but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 20 The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.
21 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22 With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23 The human said,
“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
because from a man she was taken.”
24 This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed.