“EVE WAS FRAMED!”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but 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.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw 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 took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened,…
(Genesis 3:1-7a, NRSV)
When I was in elementary school, I loved ordering books from Scholastic. (These were the days when Amazon was just a river.) I would remove the order form from my Weekly Reader and read the description of every book for sale. Being a true scholar, I usually chose a joke book. But not every time. Sometimes I ordered a poster. I still remember my all-time favorite that I taped to the door to my room. It was a close up of a basset hound chewing on a slipper with the caption, “The devil made me do it!” Apparently as a 9-year-old, I had a lot of explaining to do. I was drawn to this basset hound’s genius tactic of looking adorable while blaming the ultimate bad guy. What can I say? People, and apparently dogs, love to pass the buck. Today’s scripture lesson from Genesis 3 is a great example of this.
Today’s scripture lesson recounts the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. When God calls them on the carpet, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. When Adam blames Eve there is also a none too subtle dig at God as well. Adam said to God, “It was the woman you gave me.” Gotta say, Adam, that was bold.
We know in the story that Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden, out of a life of ease and into a life of pain and toil. Through the centuries, the story took on a life of its own and was greatly expanded in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Many of us grew up being taught that the biblical story says more than it actually does which led to a bumper sticker that says, “Eve was framed.” It’s true. There’s no question that Eve got a raw deal as have women through the ages.
We need to examine the story closely, and pay attention to what it actually says and does not say. First, for the record, Genesis does not say that the serpent was the devil in disguise. This idea crystalized much later in “Paradise Lost.” In the biblical story, the serpent is no more than a conniving reptile who could talk a mile a minute. Of course that’s interesting enough. It’s a serpent that connives and talks.
So what does the passage actually say? Biblical scholar, Eugene Peterson, translates the passage this way:
3 The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?” 2-3 The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’” 4-5 The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” 6 The Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!
Rereading the passage this week, I saw a detail that I had never noticed before. In my mind, it was just Eve and the serpent at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I always pictured Eve eating the fruit and then going to find Adam so that he will eat some too. That’s not what the text says. What it actually says is this: “She took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (3:6, NRSV). Through the centuries Eve has been denigrated for eating the fruit first implying that as a woman, she was weak and thus more gullible to temptation. The flip side is the implication that Adam is the more discerning of the two and thus he would have been a harder nut to crack when tempted by the wily serpent.
The text says none of that. The passage tells us that Eve and Adam are together at the tree when the fruit is eaten. If Adam was so wise, why didn’t he argue with the serpent? Why didn’t he grab Eve’s hand to prevent her from eating the fruit? Or better yet kill the serpent and turn it into a nice snake skin handbag for the woman he loved? None of this happens. Instead, Eve takes a bite, then hands the fruit to Adam who woofs it down as well. Adam is not portrayed as holier than Eve. He’s the guy standing there who takes what he’s given and eats it no questions asked.
This is an important point because many biblical fundamentalists argue that Eve was “the weaker vessel,” their words not mine. The argument goes, and this is still being used today, that since Eve was so weak and so vulnerable to temptation, then all women are weak and vulnerable to temptation. The fundies use this illogical leap as a biblical proof that women should be submissive to their morally superior husbands. I’m sure this turns your stomach as much as it does mine. With this starting point, it’s been downhill for women ever since, who even in the 21st century still make less money than their male counterparts.
So why is the Eve and Adam story in the Bible in the first place? The ancient Hebrews were just as bewildered by their world as we sometimes are of ours. They asked why is life so hard? Why is it so difficult to scratch a living from the dirt? They found their answers in the Genesis creation stories that told them that everything was once perfect. That all was well until some people did something to make the whole world fall apart and their names were Adam and Eve. At least now the ancients had someone to blame though deep in their hearts they might admit, that they too were a part of the problem.
This brings us to the First Sunday in Lent, when we come face to face with the truth that we too are a part of the problem, that we too fall short of our best intentions and highest ideals for the world and for ourselves. But here’s the good news: If we are a part of the problem, we are also a part of the solution.
Author Fredrick Buechner writes, “To individuals and to nations both, Jesus says the same thing. Turn away from madness, cruelty, shallowness, blindness. Turn toward that tolerance, compassion, sanity, hope, justice that we all have in us at our best. We can be kind to each other. We can be kind to ourselves. We can drive back the darkness a little.” In this season of Lent, may we give up blaming and become part of the solution. May we do our part, whatever that may be, to drive back the darkness. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
First Sunday of Lent
March 1, 2020
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York UCC
Loving God, as we begin our Lenten journey, open our hearts to notice those who hunger for hope, as well as bread. Those who are caught in the injustices of the world and those who struggle to find themselves. And in noticing, may we become generous and loving, following the compassionate path of Jesus our Brother and our Friend.
Hold them close as you hold us all close every moment of every day. AMEN.
Adapted from a prayer by Rev. Thom M. Shuman found at http://lectionaryliturgies.blogspot.com/.