Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Today (and through the rest of this week), the Church’s liturgy offers for our reflection the creation of man in Genesis’ second creation story. This story reveals both his lowliness and his greatness: he is made of clay, and yet God intimately breathes life into him. From the very beginning of his creation, man finds himself in an intimate—and almost playful—relationship with his Creator. God makes a lovely garden and sets man in it, “to cultivate and care for it.” Man’s action in this garden is a good that is willed by God, a good that man is entirely capable of, and a good which man presumably desired for himself in union with God.
God gives man the freedom to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some people think that here, God is simply setting man up for a fall, but we need not read the text in this way. Even in our own day, we understand that when a parent tells a child not to play with fire or to stay off subway tracks, this is not because the parent wishes to torment the child by telling her what she cannot do. Rather, the parent tells the child these things out of love and concern for her well-being. In the same way, God tells the man not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because God knows that eating from this tree would hurt the man. Indeed, God tells the man that if he were to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would be doomed to die. This primordial man has no knowledge of death, for he knows only life in God’s presence. Death is something other than this fullness of life, something that the Lord God seems to want to protect the man from experiencing. God desires only good for the human person; it is only when man begins to separate himself from God’s love that he comes to know evil. The evil, then, is to reject the simplicity and fullness of life in God’s love in favor of a “good” that we choose in place of the Good that God offers us. The tree in the middle of the garden is good in its place in God’s plan; it only becomes evil for us when we make something of it that God did not intend. Let us reflect on this, recalling Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel: “nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”