Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
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By Benedict Augustine
He said to them,
“’Are even you likewise without understanding?
Do you not realize that everything
that goes into a person from outside cannot defile,
since it enters not the heart but the stomach
and passes out into the latrine?’”
At first glance, Jesus’ remarks about the ritual purity of food seem to bear witness to common sense. Very few people associate their moral wellbeing with their diet—at least not in the sense that the Pharisees did. Rather, moral wellbeing comes from a person’s heart, from the beliefs he holds, not the carbohydrates in his breakfast or antioxidants in his smoothie.
No story better illustrates this point than the fruit ofthe tree of life—although it first seems to contradict Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. In Genesis, God creates the Garden of Eden over which man will have dominion. Man may partake of all the fruits that grow in Eden except fruit coming from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The fact that God places a tree in His garden that He knows will tempt Adam certainly suggests that He wants to make a point that what one eats can indeed make him impure. Man will eat of this fruit, have his eyes opened, and see what a wretched creature he is; this happens after all.
However, the gospel does not lie. Jesus expresslysays that “everything [including the forbidden fruit]from outside that goes into a person from outside cannot defile.” This means that the fruit itself does not cause Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden. Adam and Eve simply eat the fruit, digest it, and pass it into the latrine (or the equivalent), probably discovering a duel purpose for the leaves with which they covered themselves. The fruit does not grant either of them enlightenment nor does it make them “like gods.” It only serves as a conclusion for the original sin that they committed.
Adam and Eve already knew what was good before eating the fruit. The writer of Genesis make it clearthat everything preceding man’s own creation was good. Therefore, God did not create evil. The serpent has to lie to Eve that the fruit of knowledge will actually give her and her husband a knowledge like God’s, that of good and evil. Adam and Even already know what is good; they only lack in knowing what is evil, being still innocent. In truth, the only thing the fruit of the tree will teach them is that they sinned. In this fatal revelation, they finallylearn evil, and instead of becoming like gods, they find themselves further estranged from God, toiling on the earth like animals trying to survive because they could not trust God enough to follow His one commandment.
Nonbelievers like to object at this point, asking why God would place such a tree in the first place. He should have known that Adam and Eve would break down and take it at some point. This criticism missesthe important symbolism of the tree of knowledge. God loves His creation, man, and makes man free as a result of this love. This point is crucial: love must be free; it is freely given and freely received, or else it is not love. When God chooses Adam and Eve to occupy the Garden of Eden, He gives them the freedom to choose Him in return. The tree, then, symbolizes this free choice: when they do not eat of it, they obey God, and love Him freely; when they eat of it, they disobey and turn away from Him.
If God had not placed the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, one could argue that Adam and Eve had no choice but to love God, to obey Him. After all, love and obedience only have any virtue or meaning when one can choose the opposite. God did not make men to act as animals, but to serve and love as His children.
The original sin of Adam of Even continues to plague man today. God still allows man this freedom to love, which entails a freedom to sin, and people still overwhelmingly feel the temptation to pursue the latter course. The serpent still speaks—he never ceases talking—and continues to tell people that the forbidden fruit will make them like gods, knowing good from evil. Pleasure, knowledge, honor, wealth, power, all apparently accompany one’s turning away from God and religion. Like Adam, people inevitably find out that they in fact lose these things when they sin; life instead becomes painful, irrational, corrupt, poor, and uncontrollable.
Although watching one’s bodily health should concern everyone, Jesus urges His disciples to watch their spiritual health even more closely. What enters one’s stomach only matters insofar as it enters one’s heart. This fact explains how the Eucharist has central importance in the Mass: it is first and foremost food for the heart. Unlike the fruit from the tree of knowledge, the Body and Blood of Jesusopens one’s eyes to goodness, not evil. Receiving (as opposed to taking) it in a state of grace manifests an act of love and obedience; it stands directly opposed to the selfishness and disobedience of Adam and Eve. Because of this, partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus brings man closer to God in a Holy Communion rather than severing him from God whenhe partakes of the forbidden fruit.