10th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
The readings this weekend point clearly to sin so it is time for me to give the Fire and Brimstone homily I have been waiting eleven and a half years to give. (Someone clapped when I said that at the 4:30 mass which I thought was weird.) Yet, I probably should talk about sin more and it is not a current a conversation in our lives, but it seems that our lack of discussion has not led to less sinning so let’s get into it with the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Today we hear the less well known second part of the story. We all know what happened in the first half – through mastery of language and psychological manipulation, the serpent finally seduces Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Then Adam sees Eve eating the fruit and thinks: hungry, good, eat. Men… But this reading is more about the reaction to the first sin than the action. We quickly realize the story of sin cannot be complete without understanding how we react to sin. And immediately we see the repercussions of sin are fear, shame and blame.
As soon as Adam senses God’s presence after the sin, he is afraid because he is naked and he hides from God. This is a remarkable turnaround. Think of what had constituted their relationship to this point. God spoke and humanity was created; God caressed the mud to form Adam and breathed life into him. They shared so much intimacy that God would walk around the garden he had created for them. Having sinned, now he feels the need to hide from God, he wants to be estranged from God so much does he fear the wrath of God and so little does he understand the mercy of God. Sin leads to the first fissure in our relationship with God for fear cannot occupy the same space as love and God is nothing but love.
Shame also enters into the world. It is embodied in the fact that Adam and Eve suddenly realize they are naked. Now they were always naked. Clothes had not yet been invited (a nearby fig tree would take care of that.) What had changed are shame and the self-loathing that comes from it. Now shame is different than guilt. I am a Catholic priest. I am not about to preach against guilt. Guilt is the recognition of our offenses, which can never be corrected or forgiven unless we acknowledge them. We live in a less guilty age, but I feel that has also led to a lack of personal responsibility. Shame on the other hand is the collapse of our confidence, a turning against our self. Look how Adam and Eve instantly turns against the beauty of a body personally crafted by God. God did not make us to hate ourselves for God is proud of this beautiful creation. Shame puts a lie to all that God has made us and makes us resistant to God’s mercy. We make ourselves small, isolated and unlovable like Adam and Eve hiding from love.
Shame in turn leads to blame. Unable to bear the burden of shame by ourselves we bring others down to our diminished state. And Adam blames everyone. “The woman whom you put here with me— she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” He blames Eve for his failure. Fifteen minutes ago when Eve was created, he was all, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” and now it is all, “She made me do it.” But it is not only Eve who bears the brunt of the blame. Adam blames God for it. “The woman whom you put here with me,” that has caused this problem. I was fine until your brilliant plan put her beside me. Yet blaming others for our own faults is a rejection of freedom for it does not embrace the truth. True freedom is knowing who you are and owning it. Like shame, blame is a retreat from ourselves as God made us.
But let us change the scenario. Eve and Adam have eaten the forbidden fruit, but they do not hide. God comes upon Adam and God sees the juice dripping all over his face and knows what has happened. Adam does not equivocate. He owns his sin. “I know it is wrong. My actions were dumb and selfish. I am sorry.” Notice the words “I am sorry” never appear in the narrative. Wouldn’t everything be different? Would we even recognize the fullness of sin?
Let us change our scenarios. It appears we cannot keep from sinning. But we can change our reaction. We do not need to hide from God out of fear by compartmentalizing as when we figure this is not in God’s domain or we have a life separate from God. A good friend recalls the time I called him out when he said, “The Christian side of me thinks…” And I said, “The Christian side of you?” We can only be wholly ourselves. For what ails us cannot be healed without treatment, the shadow can only be displaced by sunlight and there is not absolution without confession.
Let us change the scenario and have guilt without shame. Let us own our wrongs but not cut ourselves down. Let us be fully open to and encounter with the mercy of God and get used to the idea that we can be imperfect and perfectly loved.
Let us change the scenario and not blame others for our sins and failures. Occasionally at our school, children are brought to the office for being naughty. And I always ask what happened and they always respond with “This kid did this to me.” And then I always reply, “Who is the king of not caring what happened first?” because no one can make you push or use a bad word. Isn’t that true freedom? God has made us so that no one can force us not to love. Without blame, the work of reconciliation can begin.
We might not always prevent ourselves of choosing the wrong action, but we can change our reaction. Let us change the scenario and embrace the redemptive mercy of our God.