What's missing from today's first reading? [We are created to find God through relationship]

I'm mystified sometimes when I approach the Sunday readings, wondering how they were selected or edited.  In today's reading for the First Sunday of Lent, I get how the first reading from Genesis and the Gospel have a common theme about temptation.  But, what struck me most was what was missing from the first reading.  What was edited out?  How does the story go from there just being a man (Adam) to a couple (Adam and Eve).

Most Christians are surprised that Genesis has two creations stories from two different traditions, crafted together, one after the other.   Most of us are more familiar with the first one in which God, almost like an engineer, creates the world in six days.   At the end of that story, God creates humanity "male and female he created them."  Genesis 1: 27   We learn from this story that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore, each of us, from conception to death has inherent dignity and worth, a pillar of Catholic theology and a fundamental building block of Catholic Social Teaching.

However, today we hear from the second creation story in Chapter 2 of Genesis.   In that version, God is more like a gardener, because the story is set in the garden of Eden.   Out of dirt or clay, God creates a man and breathes life into him.   God loves this man and gives him a magnificent playground.   While the man has all the animals and plants to enjoy, he's ultimately not happy.  He has a relationship with God, but being created only in the image and likeness of God, and not being a god, I wonder if he struggled with truly being able to relate to God. God recognizes that "it is not good for the man to be alone."

God has a solution.  Going back to the drawing board, so to speak, God puts the man to sleep and from the man, creates a woman.   Finally having someone like himself to connect with, the man is happy.   He can relate to her.  And, in relating with her, he comes to discover God's love through the relationship.  So, while the first creation story tells us we all have a direct relationship with God, the second creation story tells us that we most come to know God's love through our relationships with others.  After all, how do most of us first come to know God's love?  It's usually through our parents.

Jesus sums this up in a confrontation with the scholars of his day over what is the greatest commandment.  Jesus answers, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:25-28. When pressed on who is this neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  Thus, we come to know God's love, not only through our relationships with our spouses, family and friends, but also through our encounter and relationship with the stranger and enemy.
In the reading today, the story continues the great temptation faced by the first couple.  It is the temptation whether to:
(a)  discover love by being in relationship with God directly (first story) or through relationship with others, including the enemy and stranger, (second story) or
(b) take the short cut and be our own god.  
 Of course option (b) is a lie, an illusion.  God is the  only source of all love and there is no short cut.  It's only through God that we can know that we were created out of, and created to become, love.

And, thus, the story continues, the whole drama of human history, the struggle for (a) finding love through and in God and letting creation unfold as God hopes, or (b) creating idols.  Unfortunately, like the first couple, we tend to be tempted to pick option (b).   In other words, we end up looking for love in all the wrong places which ends up in hurt, oppression, violence and destruction.

Interestingly the Gospel story today is set in a desert, not a garden, perhaps to underscore the the cummulative result of humanity picking option (b).   But the story is similar.  Jesus also faces that temptation:  (a) trust to find love only in God and encounter with the other, or (b) give into the temptation to rely on the false gods of power, security, wealth and fame.  The ending is different. Jesus picks option (a) and goes on to find God in his encounter with the other, even the "enemy" that will eventually kill him.

This Lent, we once again have the opportunity to take a hard look at our lives and choose option (a),  to choose love.  As Christians, we cannot give into fear.  We must not give into the temptation to build walls.  We need to go beyond the desert to build bridges in our homes, our communities, and in our world.  More than ever, we cannot turn inward with suspicion towards the other who doesn't look like us or pray like us.  We must be brave and go forth in joy in ever widening circles of encounter to find God's love.  Make this Lent our opportunity to plant the garden where God's love grows.

Deacon Matt in Tanzania with Steven.

Learn more about how God is inviting you to participate in the mission of love at a Maryknoll Missionary Disciple Formation Program.

Matt Dulka is deacon of the Oakland Diocese assigned to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers as a Team Leader for engaging the U.S. Church in mission education and promotion.

#chooselove #buildbridges #goforthinjoy #missionarydisciples

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