And Yahweh Elohim commanded A’dam, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’ Genesis 2:16
by Bruce Stanley
No scholar can say for certain when or how the apple, symbol of our willful disregard of God and point of entry into the wilderness, came to be identified as the fruit that was on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The best guess is that sometime in the Middle Ages, when Latin was the language of the church in western Europe and literacy levels were very low, confusion occurred. Latin used the word malum for apple. It is borrowed from Greek and is the word we in English borrow for melon. In Latin the word for evil is malus. A bite from the apple then came to be associated with our rebellious resistance; with that bite humankind moved from living in God’s preferred future to living in the wild.
The Lectionary readings for the first Sunday in Lent are traditionally wilderness passages. From the Hebrew Bible comes this reading (above) with Adam and Eve subsequently stumbling out of Eden and into a life of toil. The New Testament reading tells the story of Jesus in the wilderness dealing with our greatest adversary (the Hebrew term is H’satan).
Throughout scripture, the story is the same and – in fact – becomes the defining narrative of Israel’s faith. Consider these three examples: The Jewish people looked to their rescue from bondage in Egypt and wilderness wandering (prior to entering the Promised Land); Isaiah predicted and John the Baptist fulfilled the role of a “voice crying out of the wilderness”; and the final book in the Greek portion of scripture was written by John from prison during a time of horrible persecution and suffering.
With such grim experience in such inhospitable surroundings it may seem we have no hope.
During Lent, as we acknowledge the wilderness of our lives, we find there is hope sent from God in the person of Jesus Christ. In Greek, the word gospel means “Good News.” God comes to us in the midst of the wilderness in order to lead us out again and again and again and again.
Even when we are at our rebellious worst, Jesus comes to us, walking alongside us, offering hope. He comes for each and every person, no matter how great their sin and suffering. He comes unbidden even into the most desperate circumstance and he offers hope, joy, and peace. Jesus continues to journey with us, leading us all out of places of pain and suffering back to where we belong, within the walled garden of God’s preferred future.
Let us begin our Lenten journey acknowledging the wilderness around us and the wildness within us. We give thanks for the Word of God that tells the story of our loving Lord working to bring us safely back into right relationships where we belong.