Readings (Year A):
Genesis 2:7 – 9; 3:1 – 7
Psalms 51:3 – 4, 5 – 6, 12 – 13, 14 and 17
Romans 5:12 – 19
Matthew 4:1 – 11
Reflection: A leap of faith
In Ansel Elkins’ poem, “Autobiography of Eve,” Eve stands, frightened, on the threshold between Paradise and the unknown.” When she hears an echo of her own voice sing out to her from the place that is forbidden, she shakes herself awake. She is ablaze and alive. The poem concludes with a striking claim: Eve did not fall from grace. She leapt to freedom.
In this poem, and in this week’s first reading, Eve has agency. She knows what Paradise offers and what is forbidden there. More than the assurance of Paradise, she wants—come what may—freedom to choose for herself. Adam, taking the fruit and tethering himself to his earthly love, ultimately chooses the same.
My pulse quickens, imagining Eve, having made her choice, so intensely alive, “in a blaze of green fire.”
Of course, it’s tempting. I relate. Most of all, I want what I can’t—or don’t—have. My forebears in the Garden also wanted the freedom to call their own shots, to decide for themselves what was and wasn’t off limits, to live freely and fully in a new world of their own making. What is more human than that? To live is to grapple with our limitations. In some sense, we are all trapped by our circumstances; we have life—the Garden!—but of course there’s a catch. We can’t have it forever.
I love this leaping Eve, and I love the humans in the subsequent biblical stories who live and fail and love and hurt and fall and leap, just as I love the fallible humans with whom I share this Earth today, myself included.
I love Jesus, too, who shows us another way.
In this week’s Gospel reading, this newly baptized man, who built his ministry on relationships with other people, pulls away from friends and family and comforts and everything familiar. He goes alone: from the Garden to the desert, from feast to fasting, from public life and ministry to solitude. He doesn’t leap into the desert. He literally, flat-out refuses the temptation to leap from the temple to test God. Instead, he retreats there. It isn’t an impulsive action with an immediate reward. It is an intentional, deliberate action, which he recommits to for 40 days and nights.
Adam and Eve turned away from God. But every time Jesus is tempted, God is where he turns. When he is hungry, he trusts that the food that will fully nourish him is the word of God. When he doubts, he redoubles his belief that God is watching out for him. When the possibilities of godliness and kingdoms are dangled before him, he secures himself in a kingdom not of this Earth where a place for him is eternally reserved.
This is the choice we have agency over: When tempted to reach for that one thing we can’t have and thus most want—maybe the power to control our circumstances, or other people, or our fates—Jesus shows us that we can reach for God instead.
Of course, without Eve’s leap, there would be no Jesus. There would be no other way if Eve hadn’t crossed the threshold. Shame and guilt are not the point of these stories. The point is: The choice is, as ever, ours. That is how loved we are. Thanks be to God.