The Prelate’s Sermon, February 21
This second Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of Expulsion. The title itself reminds us of deprivation from a blissful life or condition. The Bible tells us in a most simple, pedagogical, and dramatic way the story of our fore-parents’ failure to keep God’s commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and of the severe consequence of their transgression by losing a privileged life. With our human understanding, we will never be able to penetrate the depth of this great mystery. Nevertheless, it does not prevent us, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to contemplate the message.
In general, the Church Fathers, based upon the testimonies in the Scriptures (e. g. Is 14:12-14; Rev 12:9-10), share the view that Satan, who was originally the angel Lucifer, revolted against God. Lucifer tried to attain divine status, but fell through pride, and was forever disgraced. Since his Fall, together with his evil angels, Satan has consistently sought to deceive humanity, and his first victims were our fore-parents, Adam and Eve. By reading carefully the conversation between Eve and the serpent which concealed the Evil One, and by following the Divine inquisition and the self-defense of the two trespassers, we understand the severe consequence of their irresponsible action. The gravity of the sin of our fore-parents was their choice not to follow the commandment of the Lord God against the eating of the fruit. The consequence of their incorrect use of free will has been passed down, generation to generation, and was only expiated with the Redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which took place on the Cross.
The word Deception is very crucial to understand the core of this tragedy. The serpent’s question is a means of trickery. He says to Eve, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman answers, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die’.” Even if we assume that the serpent did not know the exact content of the commandment, he has tricked Eve into divulging the details. This was supposed to satisfy his curiosity. Yet, the continuation of the dialogue totally reveals the hidden agenda of this intimate conversation. The malicious deceiver tightens the trap, saying, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” It is explicit from the very words of the “omniscient” evil one that first, being aware of the commandment and convoluting it, he was a liar, and as such, his instruction was never reliable. This is why Deception is the main instrument of this swindler of all ages.
By exploring the conversation further, it is clear that while the deceiver was promising that the fore-parents would be like God, in essence he was sure that disobedience would lead them to be deprived of their blissful, just as he had been deprived after he haughtily declared, “I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High” (Is 14:14). In truth, while he was saying that “you would be like God”, the deceiver knew that the fore-parents would be disgraced and fall from grace just as he had.
The result of this deception becomes fatal. Since the fruit was a delight to the eyes and according to the imposter was pretended to make one wise, the victim, instead of adhering to God’s commandment, yields to the tempter’s offer. Moreover, she then shares the fruit with her husband, “and immediately their eyes were opened.” The verdict comes soon, right after an interrogation by the Lord God during which Adam tries to justify himself, claiming that the woman was the cause of the trespassing. Next, the woman is interrogated, and she in turn blames the serpent. There are so many details to discuss within the conversation of the serpent and Eve, as well as between God and Adam, that it can cover an entire Bible Study session or more. For the time being, I would like to highlight a few points in order to make the story of the Expulsion relevant to our life.
- Whether we believe or not in this narration, it is a fact for all ages that Temptation never reveals its true essence. It is always covered up; it is always sugar-coated. If we like to list all the temptations in the lives of children, youths, and adults; of people from different walks of life; of those who are married or celibate; of those who are living in deserts, rural areas, cities or palaces, I am sure we can compile volumes and volumes. One thing which may be common in all cases is that Temptation comes with rosy colors and never shows its wounding thorns. It always promises happiness, success, glory, but never disclosed the sadness, failure or damnation.As rational beings, endowed with free will, the crucial weapon against Temptation is our determination to be anchored to God’s commandments. I would like to underline “anchored to God’s commandments”, for our judgment by itself, even if it resists temporarily, eventually yields to the subtle ways and intrigue of the Evil one who, being spirit, penetrates our inner world and is familiar with all of our weaknesses. God’s commandment is good, is light, and is life, as is described throughout all the Scriptures. To neglect it and surrender to temptation definitely leads us to misery.
- It is true that yielding to temptation results in grave consequences. Nevertheless, by not admitting our shortcoming but simply justifying it can lead us into a more serious condition as incorrect habits may become part of our nature. If we observe carefully our life’s journey, we will notice that justification, which in psychological terms is well known as a self-defense mechanism, is well established in our nature since our early ages of childhood. It is enough to follow mom’s making a delicious cake but cautioning the children to wait until after the dinner in order to enjoy the dessert. Soon the temptation follows in a hidden way and the child somehow tastes it and finds himself trapped in temptation. When he is interrogated, the spontaneous response becomes, “I didn’t do it.” In our multi-dimensional relationship as spouses, parents and children, peers, neighbors, colleagues, etc., the short cut of all complications is neither reproach nor self-justification, but honesty admitting responsibility which generates more understanding, forgiveness and reverence.
- The most difficult part is to understand the expulsion from the garden in Eden. The second chapter of Genesis describes that a river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there, the river divides and becomes four branches known by the classic names of Pison, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates (Gen 2:10-14). There are vast commentaries on this passage. To neglect the geographical location may assume challenging the infallibility of the Scriptures. On the other hand, to accept the information in a literal interpretation raises other valid questions. If the trespassers were expelled out of the Garden of Eden, then based upon the detailed descriptions known since antiquity, where exactly did the Garden lay? This beautiful narrative, as much as it presents the Garden of Eden as a geographical location, also emphasizes that our fore-parents, prior to their disobedience, were privileged to enjoy the presence of God, free from fear and worry, but they lost that privilege in their disobedience against the Divine commandment and tasting the fruit. Thus, sin and death prevailed upon them and their descendants until our Lord Jesus Christ, by tasting of the righteous fruit of obedience to death (Phil 2:8), released mankind from the power of the Evil one. As Saint John says, “to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12) and led them to enjoy direct relationship with God and call Him once again, “Abba! Father” (Rom 8:15).
Indeed, the greatest bliss is to be in His presence.
Bearing in our minds the bitter experience of our fore-parents, but mostly being enriched by the magnificent offer to enjoy our Heavenly Father’s presence through His Son, let us all taste always the fruits of the life-giving commandments, and praise the All Holy Trinity. Amen.