We are working our way through the opening chapters of Genesis, and each week I am choosing a Gospel passage where the words of Jesus help us read Genesis. This week we have the story of the Samaritan, who shows us something of the path towards a state of being we could call… paradise.
Gospel: Luke 10:23-37
When Genesis was written, I think it’s pretty likely the author really thought there was an Adam and an Eve. We’re pretty sure that wasn’t the case. So he had the idea that there was an ideal world which had somehow gone wrong; that's what he's writing about. What we have, is the sense that the world could be a lot better than it is! We have the idea that there is an ideal world we can’t get to.
So we can read Genesis, and especially Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 as a compelling insight not into what went wrong, but as an insight into what stops us being the people we long to be. You’ll hear that as we go through the next few weeks.
Old Testament: Genesis 2:4b-25
In the last sermon, in Genesis Chapter One, we met a God who rolled back chaos and darkness, and who made a good and blessèd creation. And we were created, that story said, in the image of that good God.
In Genesis 2 there is another creation story. It’s different—humanity is created before the animals in this story. It’s the same creation, but the story is told to highlight different truths about us, and our relationship to the creation, and our relationship to God.
I want to talk about two of those things.
The first thing is that God creates an earthling out of the earth. Adam is not, first of all, a man called Adam. Adam is a being made from adamah, made from the soil. We are a part of creation. In fact, the story says we are nothing more than that, until God breathes life into us.
We are blessed in this story, too, just like Chapter One. God creates a garden; the Greek and Latin word for garden is where we get our word paradise. The story says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the earthling whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…” ”The Lord God took the earthling and put it in the paradise of Eden…”
But there is a twist to this story. The earthling is not told that it has dominion over the garden; it is not told it was to subdue it—that’s Chapter 1; the earthling was told to “till it and keep it.” And the word for till—that word we associate with cultivation—is the same word for to serve. The earthling is put into paradise to serve it!
This is a hugely challenging verse! Does a coal mine bleeding silt into the Great Barrier Reef, killing the coral that is foundation to so much of our existence, does such a mine serve creation!? Or is it a violence against creation?
The author understood it was not good for the earthling to be alone, so God created animals, from the earth, as companions. The earthling got to give them names. That's because the author understands we human earthlings have something unique about us that gives us a certain authority over the animals. Yet among them there “was not found a helper as his partner.” We are not just animals.
So God crowns the creation by creating another earthling. It is interesting that the first earthling does not name this creature in quite the way the same way as the other the animals were named— do you see what I did there?—the other animals. We are all created from the dirt of the earth; we are all animals.
Instead of naming this new companion, the first earthling recognised her: “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” The companion is recognised as an equal: in the Hebrew it says “this one shall be called Ishshah, for out of Ish this one was taken.” This one shall be called WO-man, for out of man she was taken. It’s a pun, but it’s a pun like adam and adamah; it signifies the two things are deeply, intimately, and intrinsically related from the very beginning.
It’s only after things go wrong that the man names the woman like he names the animals; that's in Chapter 3.
And you’ve noticed, I think, that I’ve been skirting around using the words female and male, and him and her, and man. That’s because we have a long tradition of assuming the primacy of the male in our culture; the bloke is on top in the relationship. But gender domination does not exist in paradise; gender domination is a sign of things gone wrong, what the old language called The Fall. Man is not superior to wo-Man in the original vision of paradise.
I’m also being very careful about the language because the key issue in the story is the joy and blessing of companionship, of relationship, and of honour, and respect. After the earthling, with great joy, recognises the new companion as “being fit for him,” the story says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
We cling to each other because relationship completes us; love makes us; we are always missing a something of who we could be, if we do not love. Too much solitude makes us ill. But it’s the human relationship which helps make us, not a person of a specific gender.
In the story this is expressed using the love between a man and a woman, husband and wife, as an example. But this has been corrupted into being presented as the only real way to love; social conservatives use it to say that you can’t love properly unless you are a man who loves and is married toa woman, or a woman who loves and is married to a man.
Somehow, the kind of love where John 13:23 says, “There was reclining on Jesus’ breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved…” or where it says “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul—“ .(1 Sam 18:1) … somehow this kind of love is rated as lesser.
Single folk constantly tell us they are made to feel lesser, to feel left out, by those of us who have partners; their relationships are viewed as inferior. And, of course, the text is weaponised against LGBTI folk; in too many places, and in far, far too many churches, only male-female relationships are allowed.
But at the bottom of the story of Genesis 2 is not gender, but relationship. Where it says the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed, it is not talking about heterosexual marriage. It is saying that in the ideal vision of creation, of paradise, companionship and relationship is so deep and safe, and so loving, that we could expose our full selves to each other.
When it all goes wrong in Chapter 3, the man and the woman are not suddenly naked and ashamed… the man he says to God that he is naked and… afraid. Something is going on in the world that makes us people, who “were made for each other,” who could complete each other, and be companions who would fit into paradise—something is going on which makes us afraid of each other. At the root of so much human pain is… loneliness… and fear.
And that brings us to the second point. What’s missing in this story of the vision of how paradise could be… remember: Genesis 2 is not what once was, but what could be—what’s missing… is violence! There is none.
It’s not until Chapter 9 that human beings are even told they may eat the animals! That’s after Noah’s flood. And then, it says
The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.
But fear and dread has already come for people, because Cain has killed Abel, and Lamech has killed a young man (both in Chapter 4) and by Chapter 6, God is seeing that
… the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them…
The thing that keeps us out of paradise—or “which has gone wrong,” in the Genesis author’s view— is our violence. The thing that stops relationship being without shame and fear, is our violence. The thing that stops us clinging to each other, resting on each other’s breast, that destroys intimacy, is our fear of violence.
This insight is at the heart of the Christian gospel. In Matthew 26, it says
Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
He renounces violence as a way to paradise. It is better to die than to be violent. That’s the gospel!
And in the great parable about how to love God with all our mind and soul and heart and strength, the Samaritan chooses the relationship of shared humanity in the face of possible violence against him from the robbers, who might still be hanging around.
And he chooses the relationship of shared humanity over the violence of religious law which separated people, and made some less worthy than others.
That story begins with the lawyer asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ which… we sometimes call… paradise. Compassion and mercy, the core Christian behaviours of the Samaritan, which prove that we love God, are the direct opposite of violence.
So the paradise in Genesis 2 has not happened yet. It is a vision, a metaphor, of where we may go if we let ourselves be healed of our violence, and embrace relationships of love, and respect, and honour. Jesus is calling us; will we go there? Amen
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