The lectionary readings for Morning Prayer today are Genesis 2.4-9, 15-17 and Mark 7:14-23. In the first, God warns the ‘dustling’ not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the second, Jesus declares that it is not what goes into the body that defiles us, but what comes out of the heart. How do these readings relate?
The first two chapters of Genesis tell two different accounts of creation. These are symbol-rich stories whose purpose it not to tell us the mechanics by which the earth came into being, but rather to tell us about the kind of world in which we live. In chapter 1 we see order and life brought out of chaos, and that life is pronounced ‘good.’ In chapter 2, we come across something that is not ‘good’ – the knowledge, or lived experience, of evil, alongside good. We also discover that it is ‘not good’ in God’s eyes for the dustling to be alone. God addresses the first ‘not good’ through instruction – don’t eat of that tree – and the second through provision – enabling the dustling to be fruitful, and multiply.
The symbol-rich story continues to unfold, and in chapter 3 we discover that there is already at least one creature present in the garden who has set themselves against God and against the privileged relationship the human beings enjoy with God. We also discover that separation from God has an impact on the fruitfulness of the earth itself, as well as on the fruitfulness of the dustlings made from it.
And with these new pieces of information, we can look back at chapter 2 and understand that already, as a consequence of the decision of the serpent to set itself against God, there has been an impact on the fruitfulness of the earth. Among the trees there is one that is bringing forth not only fruit that nourishes good but fruit that nourishes evil. Yet even this might be redeemed, as an opportunity to learn discernment.
Jesus says, it isn’t about what you eat. So what were the Jewish food regulations about? Where they simply misguided? Or are they now superseded? Elsewhere Jesus claimed that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. The purpose of the law is to instruct, to train us for right living. The food regulations aren’t about what you eat; they are about what you consume and what you nourish; and about learning to decline something that look perfectly good and justifiable, because not everything that looks perfectly good and justifiable is good for us.
There is a rich diet readily available that will nourish the potential for evil in us, whether newspaper articles that encourage us to fear certain groups; or adverts that feed discontentment and greed, promising satisfaction forever just out of reach; or juicy gossip that eats us from the inside out; or images that objectify others, seeing their physical form (shaped from dust) but not the breath of God that animates them. And, in the end, it will kill you.
There is also plenty of food available that will nourish the potential for good in us, while starving the potential for evil. Tempted in the wilderness to feed a sense of entitlement, Jesus declared, The dustling does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Words that are patient, and kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; not insisting on getting their own way, or irritable, or resentful; not rejoicing in wrongdoing, but rejoicing in truth; words that enable us to bear all things, to believe, to hope, to endure. Such words, wherever they are spoken, have their origin in God; and God’s words don’t return empty-handed.
What are we consuming? And what is it nourishing in us?
What do we need to reduce in, or cut out of, our diet? What do we need to eat more of than we have done?