Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 8th: Psalm 17; Zechariah 3:1-10; and 2 Peter 2:4-21. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Carl Jung was a famous 20th century psychiatrist. He once observed: “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” Jesus’ teaching technique is most associated with the parable. Parables are stories that are meant to get people thinking. They often play on human assumptions. Jesus’ stories lead their listeners to expect they know the outcome and then suddenly Jesus pulls the rug out from beneath them. And as soon as the listener is confused, the gospel has a chance to make its impact because the listener must start to think.
The early Gnostics – based on the Greek word gnosis or knowledge – have left a stigma on knowledge. It is almost as if knowledge compromises faith, that faith must be blind and obedient to be authentic. It’s too bad that the Gnostics left their imprint on the story of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis because there is some merit to a rereading of the story.
Hopefully we’re familiar with Eve taking the serpent’s advice and eating of the fruit, and then giving it to a rather doltish Adam. They realize immediately that they are naked and they create rudimentary clothing. Up to this moment, they were like the other animals in Eden, who were, as the story goes, created by God as Adam’s partners. (Genesis 2:18) Now Adam and Eve are different than the other animals because they share knowledge with God, for as the serpent had said, “‘You will be like gods.’” (Genesis 3:5)
God then reacts to this new reality. God makes “garments of skins” (Genesis 3:21) for Adam and Eve. This further differentiates humans from the other animals. Before knowledge, they all coexisted. Now God allows for humans to kill animals and use them for their needs. I realize that there is an ethical reading of this lost coexistence as idyllic, much like Isaiah’s wolf living with the lamb (11:6+), but in the broader scope of Genesis this differentiation is the beginning of a long road to human responsibility and creativity.
Look at the original doltish Adam who when he receives the fruit from Eve is described as merely the one “who was with her.” (Genesis 3:6) Eve’s motives are complicated; Adam is simply simple. Up to the point of gaining knowledge, the human couple had everything provided for them by God. Idyllic maybe, but sad in the sense that they really have no way of providing for themselves. However, by the end of Genesis, by the end of “the beginning,” Joseph is the primary actor and provider. Reference to God dwindles, but as any parent hopes and knows, this is what is right and good. Any parent wants their child to have enough knowledge to become self-reliant.
But the road from Eden to Joseph’s Egypt and beyond is a hard one, but Genesis seems to reveal that it is far better than the lazy one of lolling around Eden purposelessly for an eternity. Yes, thinking is difficult, but most anything worth its weight is. Jesus knew this and embraced it with His parables.
This is why we need to combine faith with knowledge, with thinking. God has blessed us with intelligence. Let’s not turn it into a curse by divorcing it from our faith. I see this happen when religions and religious people give up on thinking and resort to judging. Today the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church exonerated the Russian instigated war in Ukraine with its possible war crimes because there are gay people in Ukraine. (https://www.newsweek.com/russian-orthodox-church-leader-blames-invasion-ukraines-gay-pride-1685636)
He has passed judgment on gay people and simultaneously excused the killing of innocents, the destruction of cities and homes, the mass exodus of more than a million women and children, the separation of wives and children from husbands and fathers, not to mention the possibility of intentionally or accidently starting a nuclear war! The church leader ignores everything that Jesus teaches and relies on a silly judgment against gay parades. It is so ludicrous that even doltish Adam could see it.
So in the face of unthinking religious judgment, let us think about our faith, and let us also trust in the God who is always there even when we commit unthinking atrocities against one another, for as the Psalmist writes for us today: “Wondrously show your steadfast love, O saviour of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.”
And if you’d like to join us for online Bible study this evening and think about the Word of God, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for the login.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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