“[Eve] took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” Genesis 3: 6a-7

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”‘ ”  Matthew 4: 5-6

It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?  The thing Adam and Eve did with their amazing new knowledge was to make clothes, and cover themselves.  They were alone in the garden; they’d already seen each other naked, yet suddenly it became imperative that they be clothed.  They didn’t look around them at the complex splendors of the Garden and the intricate creation that God had wrought – they scrambled for cover.

Shame is cultural, as I think we recognize pretty generally.  Shame around nakedness is also cultural – spending just a few minutes looking at National Geographic should be enough to remind us of that, as it has reminded generations of ten-year-olds.  The need to be clothed is a learned behavior: small children readily strip off their clothes in the summer, or around the house, regardless of who might we watching.  And so this immediate need that Adam and Eve felt to cover themselves, speaks not to some inherent element of the human condition, but to the culture that told these narratives and wrote them down.

Because, of course, Adam and Eve did not write Genesis.  As with all Biblical narrative, these stories began as oral traditions – stories told to make sense of the world and our place in it.  These stories, as they were handed down, shifted and developed according  to the understandings of the cultures in which they were being told: the language was updated, the examples adjusted to speak to the current generation.  Only when the stories were finally written down did their evolution slow, and even then changes get made – Disney’s retelling and updating of stories like “Rapunzel” (in the recent movie, “Tangled”) being a good example.  Our ways of telling stories, the words we choose to heighten the tension or illustrate emotional content speak far more clearly to the needs and concerns of the listeners, than to the stories’ characters, inevitably.

And this story from Genesis is no exception.  The culture that finally codified the story, in roughly the form in which we read it today, came from a culture that used clothing as a marker: to distinguish between themselves and other cultures, to differentiate the rungs of the cultural and social ladder.  This was a culture that viewed others, who wore less clothing, as less-than, uncivilized, unGodly.  For these people, clothes showed status, and the mark of a person’s God-like-ness.

For that is the real temptation, always.  It was the real temptation underlying the serpent’s cunning words to Adam and Eve.  It was the real temptation that the devil offered Jesus: the temptation to be God-like.  These stories are not about making a fig-leaf fashion statement; not about being knowledgeable for the sake of of knowledge per se: but about being powerful for the sake of power alone: powerful in a way that humans never can be.

There is something to the parenting metaphor that we often use for God.  No matter what the language – Father and Mother have both been used, not just by our generation but back into antiquity – there are times when the metaphor just works well.  Not just because I can totally see God, in next scene, looking at Adam and Eve in their new clothes and saying, “I knew it was too quiet around here…” But because God, in this story, is dealing with something that many parents hear and deal with in their own children.  Because most children say, at some point,  “I wish I was grown up!”  Most children see, and envy, the privileges, the freedom, the ability to set rules that adults often enjoy, and even take for granted.  Children see freedom of movement, of bedtime, of TV watching… without seeing the responsibilities, the constraints of adulthood.  And they want what they see – didn’t we, as children?  And if there had been a piece of fruit that offered us all that we saw, and wanted, and dreamed about… wouldn’t any of us have eaten it?

Wouldn’t we still?   Wouldn’t we eat the fruit that would make us as important as we want to be?

Wouldn’t we throw ourselves from the peak, just for the joy of being seen, by all of Jerusalem, as the one who was important enough to be caught by angels?  Would we refuse such symbols of power and status: the clothes, the objects, that prove us to be more civilized, more important… more God-like?

More God-like?

What would God wear?  Fig leaves? LL Bean? Brooks Brothers?

Or more to the point: how would we dress God, in human vesture and after our own image?

That is the temptation that faced humans in Eden, that faced the human Jesus, that faces us all today; in the cunning of external forces, and the whispers of our own doubts and fears: temptation to reduce God to our level.  The temptation to make reduce God to the testable, the sensible; the puppeteer and controller of our lives.  To make God into the one who blesses us with human status, power, and wealth; into one who lives and judges by human values.

It is the temptation to believe that God is present when we succeed and against us when we fail; the temptation to believe that God – that love – might be present when we assuage our own hungers before seeing to the needs of others.

It is the temptation to put individual importance before community, to be the one the angels catch, rather than the angel who catches the poor soul in free fall.

It is the temptation to think that knowledge means wisdom, and makes us like Gods ourselves.

What would it look like if this story had been transmitted orally all the way to us, adapting to suit values of each generation – including, ultimately, this one? what would Adam and Eve have done with their newfound knowledge, what would they have made to show their new status?  What symbol of our civilization would we give them to make the listener understand that that fruit had made them God-like?

In what do we put our faith, we humans?  What is it that makes us, even now, children of Eden, rather than disciples of Christ, unable to resist the promise of the unattainable?

What tempts us, even today?  And what is our response?

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