Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Second Week: Signs of God's Promise

SATISFACTION - With the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden came the loss of what we as Catholics call the Preternatural Gifts: (1) Immortality; (2) Impassibility (freedom from every kind of evil, sorrow, pain and death); (3) Freedom from Concupiscence (unreasonable appetite to fulfill our every desire and want); (4) Ignorance; and (5) Sin (an offense against reason, truth, and right judgment). The serpent first evoked from Eve a sense of disatisfaction. Being created in the image and likeness of God and having the fullness of grace wasn't enough. She believed that by obeying the serpent she could be God's equal and in essence no longer need her creator and Lord. How true it is even today that dissatisfaction is often the springboard of sin and evil. If only Eve and Adam had responded, "I don't want or need that! I am satisfied with what I already have!" then how different would the world be.

FALL FROM GRACE, LOSS OF GIFTS - GOD'S LOVING RESPONSE- Unfortunately, following the fatal choice to disobey and break their covenant with God, Adam and Eve lose the preternatural gifts and the fullness of grace and joy. They are clothed by God in their shame and nakedness and led forth from the Garden with angels posted to guard their re-entrance. Instead of seeing the expulsion from the Garden as a punishment, it is an act of God's Mercy. God does not want Adam and Eve to remain in their fallen state forever and that is precisely what would happen if they remained in the Garden with access to the Tree of Life. So, God sends them forth out into the world and promises to send a savior/redeemer who will restore human kind to their original state full of grace and blessed with every good gift.

JESUS IN THE GARDEN & THE TREE OF LIFE - The connection between the first garden of the fall and the second garden where Jesus fulfills the Father's promise after the Fall in the first garden should not escape our attention. Jesus, as Son of the Father, will endure whatever is necessary to destroy the power of sin and death! The disobedience of the first Adam and Eve will be undone (recapitulated) by the actions of the new Eve (Mary) and the second Adam (Jesus). His willingness to suffer whatever he must out of "obedience" to his Father even to death on the cross (the new Tree of Life) which in the Gospel of John is both Jesus' throne of Judgment and the Table of the Passover. Amazing! He will do what is necessary to restore God's grace to humankind. John's Gospel will clearly contrast the obedience of the Jesus and Mary as the Second Adam and new woman with the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

THE DEVASTATING CYCLE OF SIN & DEATH - With the birth of Cain (Hb - spear/smith) and Abel (Hb - son), sin makes new in roads. The older and first born son of Adam & Eve will work as a tiller, keeper, and farmer of the land. Younger brother Abel will work as a shepherd. These details are not insignificant. What way of life most pleases the Lord? Will it be the farmer who lives a sedentary life or will it be the nomadic shepherd who is constantly on the move? God is pleased with the sacrifice made by Abel who gives the first born of his flock and rejects the sacrifice of Cain who gives some of his harvest in sacrifice to the Lord. God's pleasure with Abel's sacrifice indicates that we too must not get too sedentary, unmoving, and complacent in our life. Being satisfied is good, but that doesn't mean we should not keep moving forward.

BEING STUCK AND IMMOVABLE - The anger of Cain toward his brother is first noticed by God who tries to warn Cain from expressing his hostility with evil. Cain is described as downcast and reflects a disposition that is beneath the dignity of a man. Cain does not listen to God and calls Abel to go out into the fields with him - turning on his brother and killing him. The blood of Abel calls out to heaven and God who inquires of Cain the whereabouts of his brother. At this point we hear that famous question: "Am I my brother's Keeper?" Throughout history the agreed upon response has been, "Yes, I am my brother's Keeper!" It is certainly a worthy and appropriate response, but possibly not the original meaning.

While in my early years in seminary, I had the opportunity of doing an exegesis (exhaustive analysis) of the response of Cain to God. Much to my surprise, the general interpretation was not necessarily the correct one. The real response to "Am I my brother's Keeper?" is "No." Only God is our Keeper in the same way that there are other roles that uniquely belong to God. Being our Keeper is one of those roles uniquely belonging to God. Hopefully, you can anticipate what this means. Cain is chiding and talking back in a derogatory tone to the Lord. His words are more like, "You're God, your supposed to know everything. You should know where my brother is - don't ask me!" The same God who tried to turn Cain away from his anger and evil must now be subjected to the back talking that is the characteristic response of rebellious children to their parents. God responds with mercy - choosing not to kill Cain for killing his brother. Indeed God places a mark of protection on Cain and sends him to the Land of Nod (Nomads/Fugitives). It seems that Cain will have to be a nomad after all. Tradition suggests that the descendants of Cain will be shepherds, traveling musicians (Jubal - Trumpet), tinkers and metal workers. He will have to live his life on the move. The hope is that his wanderings and movement will eventually lead him back to the Lord.

THE FLOOD - A STORY OF DESTRUCTION OR SALVATION? - Reminiscent of the story found in the ancient text called the "Gilgamesh Epic" in which the hero Gilgamesh is searching for the secret to immortality, the story of Noah and the Flood also tells of a world-wide cataclysmic deluge. God will wash away all those who do evil by sending rain for forty days and forty nights. But God also sees the righteousness of Noah and his family and commands him to build an ark which will carry a hopeful surviving remnant of humans and animals to repopulate the world. I would suggest that the real point of the story is not destruction and death, but God's desire to save and deliver his faithful people. It is about salvation!

As a way to destroy evil and sin, the flood is a failure. Original sin was not washed away by the waters of the flood. Its affects can be seen in Noah who gets drunk and allows his drunkenness to become the impetous for more evil.

THE TOWER OF BABEL - THE CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES - In every building project there is always dissension. This building of a ziggurat to reach up into the heavens was no different. By the time it is reaching into the heavens, no one is speaking the same language any more. There is a complete communication breakdown. Above all it is not just a breakdown between men, but also a reminder of the terrible breakdown between God and humankind.

BAPTISM & THE HOLY SPIRIT - Very powerfully we see the eventual plan of God to use the flood as a foreshadowing of baptism in which we are saved and delivered from death and destruction - Original Sin. The communication barrier is broken down when the Apostles gather in the upper room after Jesus' Resurrection and become of one understanding and accord - even though they come from different parts of the world and speak confusing languages. Another happy reversal and hope for all of us who are unmovable, drowning and overwhelmed in the sea of humanity, and struggling to be understood and heard. There's Good News!!!!

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