Week of 5 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  A Fig Tree

Image Source = Fir0002

Returning the Beauty of God to Earth

FEBRUARY 10, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Genesis 3:1-8 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And the snake was slier than every animal of the field that YHWH God had made, and he said to the woman,

Has God indeed said you may not eat from any tree of the garden?

And the woman said to the snake,

We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden.  But from the fruit of the tree that is within the garden God has said, “You shall not eat from it, and you shall not touch it, or else you’ll die.”

And the snake said to the woman,

You won’t die!”  Because God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God–knowing good and bad.

And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was an attraction to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to bring about understanding, and she took some of its fruit, and she ate, and gave to her man with her as well, and he ate.  And the eyes of the two of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they picked fig leaves and made loincloths for themselves.

And they heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden and the wind of the day, and the human and his woman hid from YHWH God among the garden’s trees.

Psalm 32:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

Mark 7:31-37 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Once more Jesus left the neighbourhood of Tyre and passed through Sidon towards the Lake of Galilee, and crossed the Ten Towns territory.  They brought to him a man who was deaf and unable to speak intelligibly, and they implored him to put his hand upon him.  Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself. He put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with his saliva.  Then, looking up to Heaven, he gave a deep  sigh and said to him in Aramaic,


And his ears were opened and immediately whatever had tied his tongue came loose and he spoke quite plainly.  Jesus gave instructions that they should tell no one about this happening, but the more he told them, the more they broadcast the news.  People were absolutely amazed, and kept saying,

How wonderfully he has done everything!  He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.


The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sin spoils creation.  The reading from Genesis describes the original sin, which is hubris, in mythological terms.  There is nothing wrong with knowing the difference between good and evil, but there is plenty wrong with seeking, on our own power, to be like God.  We are not God, and nothing will change that fact.  And we cannot hide from God, either, no matter how much we try.

I feel the need to make a few other comments about Genesis 3:1-8:

  1. The snake is just a snake.  It plays the role of the mythological trickster (such as Loki or Coyote), whose function is to introduce chaos into the established order and to challenge conventional rules of behavior.  Some tricksters are openly villainous, where as others are morally ambiguous.
  2. Later Christian tradition associates the snake with Satan.  This is not a Jewish understanding, and Genesis is a Jewish text.  By the way, the theology of Satan evolves throughout the Jewish Bible, so that the Satan (“the Adversary”) begins by working for God (as in Judges and Job) and ends by opposing God (post-Exilic period).  And, by the end of the First Century C.E., the Revelation to John tells the story of the Satan in such a way as to ignore the part about “the Adversary” ever working for God.  This seems like a good time for me state plainly that, due to my knowledge of the history of theology of the nature of Satan, I cannot and do not believe in the existence of Satan, or personalized evil.  (Call me a heretic if you please; I will take it as high praise.)
  3. Talmudic tradition states that the fruit Adam and Eve ate was the fig.  The choice of fig leaves to cover selected nakedness becomes ironic in that understanding of the story.

The story of Jesus continues in the Markan Gospel.  When last we read about Jesus in Mark, he was in Tyre, a city the Phoenicians had founded on the Mediterranean coast.  He was surrounded by Gentiles.  When we resume the story where we left off, we read that our Lord and Savior takes the scenic route to the Decapolis, a region with ten cities and many Gentiles, as well as a fair number of Jews.  Jesus is still surrounded by Gentiles.

There Jesus meets a deaf man with a speech impediment.  Of course the man has a speech impediment; he is deaf.  We humans learn to speak by listening to others.  Local superstition holds that spittle has curative powers, so Jesus uses what the man and his believe and puts a good shamanic show for everyone.  The power of the healing is not present in the show, however.  The Gospel of Mark tells of Jesus healing people with various conditions with a word, and even doing this in absentia.  Yet the shamanic show serves a purpose; Jesus is meeting the deaf man and his neighbors where they are.  He demonstrates respect and compassion for them in this way.  Our Lord and Savior sees a man who needs his help; he does not see a medical case.

Jesus tries to keep his Messianic secret, as he does elsewhere in the Markan Gospel.  But, as elsewhere in Mark, people talk anyway.  They say that he does all things well.

What, you ask, is the connective tissue between Genesis and Mark?  Funny you should ask.  William Barclay provides that connective tissue in his Daily Study Bible volume on the Gospel of Mark:

When Jesus came, bringing healing to men’s bodies and salvation to their souls, he had begun the work of creation all over again.  In the beginning everything has been good; man’s sin had spoiled it all; and now Jesus was bringing back the beauty of God to the world which man’s sin had rendered ugly.  (page 182)

We ought not get too big for our britches, a metaphor which fails to apply to Adam and Eve.  But God, in the form of Jesus, meets us where we are and in our own cultural context.  And, if we are willing to recognize who (and what) we are and who (and what) Jesus is, he can work with us to make us who (and what) we are supposed to become.  This might not be what we want to become, but God knows better than we do.   Details will vary according to each person, but the principle is constant:  Empowered by God, we are called to help communicate the beauty of God to a world sin has rendered ugly.




Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

As printed in The Methodist Hymnal (1965), of The Methodist Church:

1.  O for a thousand tongues to sing

My great Redeemer’s praise,

The glories of my God and King,

The triumphs of his grace!

2.  My gracious Master and My God,

Assist me to proclaim,

To spread thro’ all the earth abroad

The honors of thy name.

3.  Jesus!  the name that charms our fears,

That bids our sorrows cease,

‘Tis music in the sinners’ ears,

‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

4.  He breaks the power of canceled,

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood availed for me.

5.  He speaks, and listening to his voice,

New life the dead receive;

The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;

The humble poor, believe.

6.  Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,

Your loosened tongues employ;

Ye blind, behold your Savior come;

And leap, ye lame, for joy.



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