12th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A

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In the story of Adam and Eve, the author of the Book of Genesis is reflecting on human nature as he sees it in himself and in the people around him. Since his reflections come from his prayer and are inspired, we can expect to find a wonderful revelation and a profound truth in the story, and we are not disappointed. Paul refers to it in today’s Second Reading.

It has almost become a commonplace to speak about the sin of Adam and Eve as a historical event, a sin committed a long time ago in the past by the first human beings. We imagine this so-called ‘original sin’ as having disastrous effects upon the whole human race. Consistent with this way of imagining things, people speak about ‘the Fall’, imagining that human beings were once in one state – living in paradise – and then we fell into the mixed up state in which we find ourselves.  Some of us even imagine that if our first parents had not sinned human beings would not have physically died. We would have somehow been immortal. None of these ideas make much sense, and more awareness of the kind of literature with which we are dealing in the early chapters of Genesis has led us to find truth in the story at another level.

The story of the sin of Adam and Eve is not a record of an event in the life of our first parents. Adam stands for Every-man and Eve for Every-woman. It is a story about human beings and the way we behave. We all find ourselves failing to listen to God and the Biblical Narrative demonstrates in a dramatic way what happens when we fail to listen to the word of God, when we fall for the temptation that we can be our own god, when we think that our choice is what finally matters and that we can work out for ourselves what is best without needing to pay attention to God’s wise and loving directions. If we are honest with ourselves, we see ourselves to varying degrees in Adam and Eve: the same pride, the same disobedience, the same confusion, the same attempt to find excuses. Left to ourselves we often get it wrong, we don’t see properly, we are confused, we fail to live within our real limits, we don’t know how to open our hearts to receive from God, we sin and we entice others to sin with us, we lose contact with the sacred and we die inside. Left to ourselves we do what Adam and Eve do in the story and we wonder why we wander on the face of the earth feeling like outcasts.

The point Paul is making is that, thanks to Jesus, whom he calls ‘the new Adam’, we know that we are not left to ourselves. We sometimes feel that we have been banished by God, but it is not true. God loves us and continues to call us. The Gospel is full of people who thought that they had no hope of living – people like the woman caught in adultery, the leper, the blind man, the thief on the cross and Mary of Magdala. To quote from the ‘Hail Holy Queen’, they felt like ‘poor banished children of Eve’. Jesus kept on trying to say that we have the wrong picture. We might stray from God and spoil the garden of this world and find ourselves in a desert, but God doesn’t banish us from the garden. We walk out and we are constantly being invited back. Jesus showed very clearly that God is love and wants us to live and to live to the full.  Jesus kept trying to jump-start people into life.

The Irish poet, Seamus Heaney writes of the challenge offered to him by a friend:

‘Your obligation
Is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.
The main thing is to write
For the joy of it. Cultivate a work lust
That imagines its haven like your hands at night
Dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-hearted, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
So ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.

We are all called to 'strike our note'. Jesus shows us that God is pouring out a unique grace over each of us. As Jesus insists in today’s Gospel, ‘even the hairs on your head are all counted’. Doting parents count teeth, but what parent is so wrapped in a baby as to spend all day counting the number of hairs? For Jesus God is a doting parent. Jesus taught us not to be afraid of God. He showed us that God knows our weakness, and loves us as we are. His longing is that we might live and live to the full (John 10:10), He wants each of us to ‘strike our note’,  and in order that we might do this, Jesus gives us a share in his Spirit, in the love-communion with God which he experiences.

To the author of the Book of Genesis a human being could be represented by Adam and Eve – and there is a lot of truth in what he writes. But now that we have seen Jesus we must revise our ideas about what it means to be human. If we want to know who we really are we no longer look at the story of Adam, for he shows us who we are without Jesus. Now, says Paul, let us look at Jesus. It is he who shows us what it really means to be human, and he makes it possible for us by sharing his Spirit with us.

We are all born as we say with Original Sin – not personal sin, of course. We are speaking of the sin of our origins. We are all born into a world that is twisted out of its true shape by sin. Left to ourselves we cannot but succumb to the pressure. We are like someone breathing polluted air, or drinking unclean water. We cannot but fall sick. But Jesus comes into our lives as he came into the lives of his contemporaries. He comes in mysterious ways into the life of every human being. As Paul tells us: ‘It is God’s will that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’, and Jesus gave himself in love ‘for the redemption of every human being’(1Timothy 2:4-5). Jesus himself promised that when he was lifted up from the earth he would draw everyone to himself and so to the Father (John 12:32).

We who have been baptised into the community of Jesus’ disciples know, with the certainty of faith, that through this sacrament Jesus has taken us into his arms with the promise that he would never stop loving us. In his encyclical on Evangelisation in the modern world (n.80). Paul VI followed the Vatican Council (see Ad Gentes n.7) in acknowledging that God can draw people to himself in mysterious ways that are beyond our grasp. He goes on to insist on the obligation which we have, an obligation in love, to carry on the mission of Jesus by drawing people into the community of Jesus’ disciples, the Church, where they can learn about Jesus, hear his word, receive grace through the sacraments, and so experience what it is like to live in the love of Christ.

Baptism frees us from Original Sin in the sense that we are given a choice. We are no longer locked into a world that blocks itself from God’s love. It is up to us to choose. We can accept or reject Jesus as his contemporaries did. God’s love is never forced upon us. We can still choose to drink the polluted water and die, or we can drink the sweet water flowing from the heart of Jesus dwelling within us.

There are times when we feel like Adam. We feel overwhelmed, lost, bewildered and heavy of heart. There are times when we cry out, like Jeremiah in today’s First Reading, but feel that no one is listening. The Responsorial Psalm picks up the mood of the Mass nicely by encouraging us to keep crying out, trusting that God does hear the cry of the poor, and that he is answering us. We must remember, however, that only God knows best what we really need. We must remember also that sometimes we are not yet ready to receive the grace that God is offering us. We will receive the grace we really need, as the psalmist says, ‘at an acceptable time’: in other words, when we are ready.

We have been consecrated to Jesus in Baptism. He will never let us go. Let us keep up the struggle and continue in our journey as disciples of one who loves us so much till we meet him in the paradise that God intends for us.