Our Lenten Journey in the Old Testament

First Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7

Here at the beginning of Lent, the Church confronts us with the problem of sin. The drama of humanity’s fall is retold in this Sunday’s reading from Genesis 3.

Man Made from Mud

First, the Lectionary sets the stage by beginning with a few verses from Genesis 2 that describe Adam’s creation from dirt. After having being reminded on Ash Wednesday that “you are dust and to dust you shall return,” this part of the reading drives the message home: God made us from mud. In fact, he made the trees and plants from mud too. It is easy for us to think much of ourselves, to consider ourselves to be a “big deal,” but our origin from dirt reminds us to think twice before having too high an opinion of ourselves.

The “One Rule” of the Garden of Eden

After Adam’s creation, we are told about the Garden of Eden—a place full of delights in which God places two significant trees: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. The Lectionary skips over much of Genesis 2, where we hear God’s command to Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (This skipped section also tells of Adam’s role in taking care of the Garden and the special creation of Eve.) God commands him “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:17 RSV). Adam and Eve are free to enjoy the Garden, and God gives them only one rule to follow.

Sometimes people object to the “one rule” asking why God would even give Adam and Eve an opportunity to sin. Why not just remove the Tree completely? The trouble is the nature of human freedom. We are not robots who can be programmed to behave in a certain way. Robots can do lots of tasks, but ultimately, they cannot love. Love is impossible without freedom. God wanted to create beings able to love him, so he had to grant them freedom not to love him, including opportunities to express that non-love. The “one rule” he prescribes offers Adam and Eve a stark choice—to love God by obeying him or to reject God by breaking his one rule. Sadly, they choose to reject God.

The Serpent’s Twisted Words

The serpent enters the Garden to tempt Eve. The serpent embodies Satan—a liar, a tempter, an accuser. Indeed, we can’t trust the things that come from the serpent’s mouth. He speaks twisted words. His statements to Eve are tainted with deception. First, he questions her: “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” But this is not a fair question. God didn’t say anything of the sort. In fact, God gave Adam permission to eat of all the trees in Eden, save one. Eve, at this point, is morally innocent in a way that we will never be. She has never heard a lie before, never encountered evil, never witnessed sin in any form. She corrects the serpent’s “mistake” and dutifully recites God’s command concerning the tree back to the serpent.

Then the serpent deceives Eve with a sinister lie—that eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil will not cause you to die, but it will divinize you, make you like God himself! God said the tree would cause death, but the serpent says it will bring about life, a greater life than Adam and Eve are currently experiencing. Rather than rejecting the false words of the serpent and relying on God’s command, Eve allows herself to listen to him. The next verse describes her temptations: that the tree was “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). The New Testament uses these three dynamics to encapsulate the temptations we experience in this world: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16 RSV). After allowing herself to be seduced by the serpent’s lies and enticed by the desirability of the Tree, Eve succumbs to temptation and eats the forbidden fruit.

The Fall Destroys Harmony

Suddenly, after the fatal moment, we realize that Adam was standing with her the whole time. He too was taken in by the lies of the serpent and fails to rely on the word of God. Together, our first parents reject God and eat the death-inducing meal that will change the course of human history: The Fall occurs. From this point on, a wedge is driven between God and man. The original harmony which Adam and Eve enjoyed with God, nature, and each other is irrevocably broken (CCC 400). Their rightly ordered persons, body and soul, are plunged into the darkness of sin, where disintegration, disorder, and conflict are the norm. Originally, they had been free of concupiscence—the inward movement of the heart toward sin—but now they and their children will be afflicted by the false desires it prompts.

After their Fall, Adam and Eve come face to face with the horror of their guilt. They see that they are naked—physically, spiritually bankrupt. They have broken the “one rule” God had given to them, rejected his plan and embarked on a fool’s journey away from God. Their search for autonomy, for “being like God,” ends in a tragic reversal. Their new sinful state is far further from Godlikeness than they ever could have imagined. Shame and guilt consume them. And out of desperation, they hide themselves from God. The reading ends on a sour note of shame, yet this humiliation could and should lead eventually to repentance. The journey of Lent starts with recognizing our humble, muddy, sinful beginnings, but it points to a far more glorious destination than even the Garden of Eden.

Editor’s Note: Unpacking the Old Testament is a series by CatholicBibleStudent.coms Dr. Mark Giszczak. Dr. Giszczak is here to help us all come to a richer understanding of what can otherwise be a very daunting collection of books, the Old Testament. Look for his column every Friday from Catholic Exchange. 


Mark Giszczak (“geese-check”) was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. He studied philosophy and theology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI and Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute of Denver, CO. He recently received his Ph. D. in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. He currently teaches courses in Scripture at the Augustine Institute, where he has been on faculty since 2010. Dr. Giszczak has participated in many evangelization projects and is the author of the CatholicBibleStudent.com blog. He has written introductions to every book of the Bible that are hosted at CatholicNewsAgency.com. Dr. Giszczak, his wife and their daughter, live in Colorado where they enjoy camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

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