The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Unless Jesus was who he claimed to be, his statements were certainly wild and preposterous. From a natural perspective, the son of Joseph and Mary, born in a particular place and time, was destined to live and die like all human beings. Nothing about Jesus’ appearance suggested that he was a heavenly being.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.
The new Moses echoed his predecessor by chiding the children of Israel for murmuring and grumbling just at the time when God promised manna in the desert (Exodus 16:2; 7-8; LXX—same verb as in John 6:43).
“Whoever comes to me will never hunger,” Jesus said (John 6:35), but
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.
Like a chain of magnets, the uncreated person of the Father draws all created persons to himself through the uncreated person of his Son, including all flesh (sarx) and the cosmos (kosmos).
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
Creation has an in-built force of attraction towards her LORD and Maker. In the beginning (Genesis 1:1), the shalom of God filled the heavens and the earth. Shalom means wholeness and completeness through communion with the LORD God, the basis of integral peace. In a shalom-filled world, all creatures move gracefully in synergy with the Spirit of God.
It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Like the second Adam, the first Adam in the Garden of Eden enjoyed an unmediated sonship in the Father, “walking” (halak) and talking with him in familiarity and intimacy. Yet only the uncreated Son “sees” (horaó) the Father in his plenitude exceeding the capacity of finite creatures. God alone “comprehends” God.
Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
Believing (pisteuó) goes far deeper than having right ideas about God and religion. Many who had a formidable knowledge of Scripture and theology did not believe Jesus. Only a genuine personal encounter leads to faith (pistis, the noun form of pisteuó).
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living (zaó) bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live (zaó) forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh (sarx) for the life (zóé) of the world (kosmos).”
Manna was provisional and a pointer to the tree of life to come from Abraham and Adam. The repetition of zóé (noun) and zaó (verb) which are cognate recall the words of the LORD God about the tree of life:
Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life (zóé), and eats of it and lives (zaó) forever?
The Greek Septuagint version matches the words of Christ in the Gospel of John concerning the bread from heaven that bestows eternal life. Zóé in the Greek lexical universe indicates the fullness of life beyond mere physical existence, in fact, participation in the divine life. It is sharply distinguished from bios or biological, earthly existence.
The original Hebrew word for life in Genesis 3:22, chay, includes divine, human, animal, and vegetative life as a whole—a concept that resonates with shalom. The Hebrew mind did not make the sharp distinctions between spirit and matter that characterized Hellenistic philosophy. In the beginning—bereshit, the opening word of the Torah in Genesis 1:1—God, Adam, and the cosmos were one.
Restoration of shalom encompasses heaven and earth, all flesh and the cosmos. The eating and drinking Jesus risen in the flesh epitomizes shalom. Every division is overcome in the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.
Egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs. I AM the Bread of Life.
After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus revealed his divine identity in the form of an I AM statement, hearkening back to the revelation of God’s name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14; LXX).
Food, the fundamental need of all sentient flesh, was the chief catalyst in the protological trial of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. A desire for something more that would satisfy a mysterious longing drove them to partake of the forbidden fruit. Brokenness, division, and unquenchable hunger and thirst followed in its wake. Toiling for food from cursed ground became Adam’s lot as he and his progeny entered the treadwheel of “dust to dust” (Genesis 3:19).
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger…
The first persons who “come” (erchomai) and seek Jesus in the New Testament are the Magi:
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
The chief priests and the scribes, quoting Micah 5:1(2), informed King Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread” (Matthew 2:6).
…and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
“Believe me,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The verb “believe” (pisteuó) is deeply personal, involving trust and surrender to the Word of God who is “true” (aléthinos, “made of truth;” see John 6:32).
But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe.
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me…
What does it mean to “give” (didómi) in the eternal Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Jesus repeated this verb over and over again during the Last Supper Discourse:
When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours…
Something or someone “given” (didómi) is a precious gift from one person to another. The Father has entrusted “everything” (pas) to the Son, and the Son will not “cast out” or “reject” (ekballo) any who come (erchomai) to him (John 6:37).
Jesus finally enfolds the “all” and “everything” (pas) given to him in the glory of the Triune Love.
and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.
In the Bread of Life discourse, which harmonizes with the Last Supper Discourse (where bread is broken), Jesus constantly attributes the origin of his mission to the Father.
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.
The Father and the Son act with a single, divine will. Human free will comes into play in both bread discourses as Jesus mourns the possibility of “losing” (apollumi) any of those given to him.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled.
Two angels and the Lord Jesus Christ asked the same question in a garden. The scene recalls the first garden at the moment of exile: two angels, a fiery revolving sword guarding the way to the tree of life, and a weeping Eve (Genesis 3:24). In the garden of the tomb, Mary Magdalene is found weeping before two angels sitting at the head and foot of the space made vacant by the risen Christ—the Word of God who is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In the garden of Eden, God looked for Adam and Eve who went into hiding. In the garden of the resurrection, the hidden God is sought after by the heartbroken daughter of Eve.
Jesus’ body must have been stolen, Mary thought. Perhaps the gardener took it.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
At the sound of her name, Mary’s eyes were opened and she recognized Jesus, the tree of life in the midst of the garden. Overwhelmed and astonished with joy, she proceeded to resume her earthly relationship with Jesus, not realizing that the risen Christ had entered into a new condition and manner of relating to humankind.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
The work of the local Christ would soon give way to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The mission of the Son does not terminate in himself, but in the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Jesus had said during his earthly ministry, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). On this first apostolic assignment, Mary Magdalene is sent forth to gather Jesus’ family together in his Father’s name. By Pentecost, the band of frightened and doubting disciples will finally receive a fiery infusion of the Spirit to spread the good news from the empty tomb to the ends of the earth.
Iconic images and words in the Bible interconnect to form a constellation that radiates to the “edges” of infinity. The episode of the three Jews thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image summons iconic connections from Genesis to Revelation.
The Hebrew word for “image” (tselem) recalls the Garden of Eden where humankind is made in God’s image. King Nebuchadnezzar turns Eden upside-down by playing God and ordering his subjects to worship a golden image (tselem) he has set up. In the process, his visage (tselem of his face) is distorted and bent out of shape. On the flip side, the faithfulness of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refines and purifies the true image of God as fire tried gold.
Daniel also presents Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatry as an attempt to reverse the curse of Babel. The story of the golden statue takes place in the “land of Shinar,” the ancient name for Babylonia where the infamous tower was built (Genesis 11:2; Daniel 1:2).
From the food test in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in the first chapter of Daniel, to the refusal of the three Jews to test God or worship an idol, a type of the three temptations of Christ in the desert can be discerned (see footnote 4). Divine assistance is given in both trials.
The following poem is written in twelve stanzas in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. The dodecasyllabic tercets honor Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the fourth stanza, their Babylonian names are used, but in the twelfth, their Hebrew ones (see footnote 12 for an explanation). The quatrain in the eleventh stanza honors the mysterious fourth figure in the furnace who “looks like a son of God” (Daniel 3:92 in the New American Bible Revised Edition).
King Nebuchadnezzar set up in Babylon A golden statue calling every echelon To worship with flute, lyre, horn, bagpipe and trigon.
Officials of every tribe, language and nation Fell down before the tselem in adoration,1 Vainly striving for Babel’s unification.
Humans in God’s tselem sculpted on the sixth day2 To a sixty by six cubit god gave away Their glory to a tselem made by hands of clay.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dissented. The tselem of the king serpentinely twisted.3 Straight stood the three and to their sentence consented.
Live or die, we will not test Adonai our king,4 Whether or not he saves us from the fire blazing. Your gods we will not serve nor the gold engraving.
Seven times hotter heat the furnace, charged the king.5 Seven times seven cubits high rose the flaming— An oblation of fire tried gold, God embracing.6
Azariah prayed while walking in the blaze. Blessed be your name, O Lord God, we give you praise. Jerusalem you judge when she hides from your gaze.7
For your name’s sake, O Lord, void not your covenant. Remember Abraham, your beloved servant From whom seed like countless stars will be descendent.8
A cool, spring breeze whistled like dew through the furnace; An angel of the Lord brought succor and solace.9 A glorious hymn of praise rang out from three voices.
God of our fathers, we bless you with one accord. Angels in the heavens, all creatures, bless the Lord. From the abyss of death, his sons he has restored.10
Nebuchadnezzar rose, hearing their melody. Turning to his nobles, he cried, Four men I see! A shining son of God is walking with the three. Powerless was the fire to singe hair or body.11
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah Refused to bow to all but Adonai (shachah). Your God lives, blessed the king of Babylonia.12
1 The Hebrew word tselem is translated as “image” or “statue” in Daniel 3:1 and throughout the passage referring to the golden idol. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of tselem.
2 The word tselem is also used of the image of God in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image (tselem), after our likeness.” Cf. Romans 1:23. In the Bible, the number six symbolizes human weakness, imperfection, and sin. The statue’s dimensions reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal (base 60) number system.
3Daniel 3:19: “Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression (tselem) on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” Idolatry distorts the image of God.
4 Hebrew readers do not pronounce the divine name, YHWH, out of reverence. Instead, they say “Adonai” (Lord) in place of the Tetragrammaton.
The response of the three Jews was perfected by Christ in his forty days’ temptation in the wilderness.
Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well; if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”
The tempter in the desert similarly challenged Jesus from the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Matthew 4:6 (cf. Luke 4:9-12)
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah responded:
“If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”
Matthew 4:7-10 (cf. Luke 4:5-8)
In the first chapter of Daniel, the four men of Judah underwent a food test that threatened to annihilate their identity as sons of the Hebrew covenant. Christ’s first temptation in the desert also centered on food.
Jesus’ response from Deuteronomy 8:3 placed him in continuity with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and the Mosaic tradition:
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
These three temptations (food, testing God, and idolatry) can ultimately be traced back to the trial before the tree of knowledge in Genesis.
5 Daniel 3:19; 47. Seven is the number of perfection and completion in the Hebrew Scriptures. The detail of the flames rising “forty-nine cubits above the furnace” comes from the apocryphal additions to the Book of Daniel, inspired additions to the Aramaic text found in Greek translations. Click here for a sample of English Bibles that contain the verse. In the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), it is verse 24 of the Prayer of Azariah inserted within Daniel 3.
6 “Fire tried gold” is an image of proven faith in both the Old and New Testaments (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7). In this poem, the true gold of the image of God is contrasted with the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar.
7 Daniel 3:24-31 (NABRE). In the protological account of Genesis, Adam and Eve “hid” from the face (panim) of the Lord God after the transgression (Genesis 3:8). Cain “went out from the face (panim) of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16).
8 Daniel 3:34-36.
9 Angels also ministered to Jesus in the desert (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:11).
10 Daniel 3:52-90.
11 Daniel 3:90-94. The ascension of the three Jews from the inferno is a type of the resurrection.
12 Daniel 3:95-97. The Hebrew names of the three Jews in the last stanza celebrate their fidelity to the God whose name they bear. Their Babylonian names, imposed on them by the regime, pay homage to foreign gods.
Daniel means “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “God has been gracious.” Mishael means “Who is what God is” or “Who is like God?” Azariah means “God has helped.”
Belteshazzar means “Bel protects” or “favored by Bel,” referring to Baal, the supreme god of the Babylonians. Shadrach means “the command of Aku,” the Sumerian moon-god. Meshach, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, probably refers to the name of a Chaldean god. Abednego means “servant of Nebo,” the Babylonian god of literature and science. Nebuchadnezzar’s name is derived from the same god and means, “Nebo, protect the crown!”
Shachah, the Hebrew word for “bow down,” is used here in the context of worship (e.g. Psalm 29:2). Click phonetics for the pronunciation ofshachah. The word is also found in the context of paying homage to a non-divine subject, such as an angel or a powerful person (e.g. Genesis 18:2; Esther 3:2). The Latin word latria (an act of adoration or worship due to God alone) approximates the meaning of shachach used in this stanza.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus’ description of the Father’s impartial love takes its inspiration from the sun and the rain— natural phenomena devoid of passion, and blind to merits and demerits. Divine love energizes all living beings regardless of their response to their Creator. Even the “enemies” of God exist because he continually sustains them in being.
In the light of Christ’s merciful words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), it becomes clear that his clashes with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests were manifestations of divine love. No malediction ever issued from his lips.
Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you? Those who rise against you, do I not loathe? With fierce hatred I hate them, enemies I count as my own.
Jesus, the Son of David, knew and prayed the “cursing” Psalms in the Hebrew tradition, but showed by his life the ultimate end of the psalmist’s prayer. Christ drove all curses into himself on the Cross, assumed blame for human sin, and expired with benediction on his lips.
The second Adam reversed the finger-pointing of the first couple in the garden of Eden who blamed the serpent, the woman, and ultimately God. Jesus, though blameless and innocent, assumed the punishment of the lawbreaker and transformed culpability into love.
Pure, disinterested love desires the good of others without distinction, seeing all persons as one in Christ. St. Maximos the Confessor writes:
The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion knows no distinction between his own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. Having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of man, he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For him there is “neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free man, but Christ is everything in everything” (Gal 3:28).1
Sunrise and sunset, Showers and snow Fructify seedbed Of friend and foe.
Both just and unjust Are rolled from clay— Divinely-breathed dust— Pearl of God’s play.
God sees all children As his own Son, Victims and villains On the Cross won.
1 St. Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love II.30.
As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Magnificat Antiphon
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
The mystical numbers three and forty ring throughout the season of Lent to attune our hearts and ears to our own death and resurrection in Christ.
Noah’s Flood, Jonah’s announcement to Nineveh, and Jesus’ temptation in the desert summon the span of forty days to combat the forces of evil.
Noah’s Flood, Jonah’s plunge into the sea and belly of the fish, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river evoke the power of water to cleanse and purify all flesh.
All “flesh” (basar) sealed up in the ark, the prophet curled up in the “belly” and “womb” (beten) of Sheol [Jonah 2:2(3)], and the burial of Christ in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40) point to the recreation of all flesh.
Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights effected his conversion and “resurrection” from the darkness of Sheol:
Out of my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me; From the womb of Sheol I cried for help, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; All your breakers and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am banished from your sight! How will I again look upon your holy temple?” The waters surged around me up to my neck; the deep enveloped me; seaweed wrapped around my head. I went down to the roots of the mountains; to the land whose bars closed behind me forever, But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God.
When I became faint, I remembered the Lord; My prayer came to you in your holy temple. Those who worship worthless idols abandon their hope for mercy But I, with thankful voice, will sacrifice to you; What I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the Lord.
Then the Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah upon dry land.
The Hebrew word for “banished” in Jonah 2:4(5) (garash, to drive out, cast out) is the same word used in Genesis 3:24 when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden. The first couple, like Jonah, was cast out from the presence of God. Yet both were mercifully protected by an outer shell from being engulfed by the forces of death and destruction—garments of skin and the fish.
The Assyrian city of Nineveh “took three days to walk through it” (Jonah 3:3), a parallel to the three days in the belly of the fish. On the first day of the prophet’s warning, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), all flesh repented in sackcloth and ashes—men, women, beasts, cattle and sheep (Jonah 3:7-8).
The sign of Jonah is a sign of redemption in Jesus Christ, who transforms the city of the world to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Jesus and Jonah in Forty Syllables:
Jesus was swallowed by the earth. Out of the fish the prophet cried: No vain idols shall I abide! Apart from God I should have died. Hell spewed out Christ to Heaven’s mirth.
Lent recalls the forty days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and the forty days of cosmic cleansing in the time of Noah’s Flood.
As Noah’s Ark, containing all “flesh” (basar, Genesis 6:19) floated atop the deluge, Christ, the saving Ark, plunged into the Jordan river and cleansed all “flesh” which he assumed (basar, sarx, John 1:14).
…God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
1 Peter 3:20-21
Humanity’s capitulation to the serpent in the garden of Eden was recapitulated and reversed by Jesus’ conquest of the tempter in the desert.
At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.
Forty Days in Forty Syllables:
Life was spoken out of chaos and void; Evil was flushed in the Flood and destroyed. Noah’s Ark saved all flesh and humankind; The Christ conquered the serpent mastermind.
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
The original harmony in the garden of Eden disintegrated following the movement of disordered desires. Bewitching the senses and the mind, the seductive fruit of the forbidden tree ensnared the first couple.
Paradisal indivisibility suffered a triple collapse as self, God, and others externalized as estranged entities.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are prescribed as medicine for wayfarers to remedy the triple disharmony. Fasting disciplines the whole person with regard to appetite. Prayer finds God once again in the hidden recesses of the heart. Almsgiving restores fraternal charity and communion.
After the first deception, everything and anything outside of Eden can be turned into a mirage, including religious observances. The prophet Isaiah warns his people not to turn fasting into an end in itself or use it for display.
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, a day to afflict oneself? To bow one’s head like a reed, and lie upon sackcloth and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Authentic fasting is hidden and bears fruit in charity to our neighbors.
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are as inseparable as person, God, and neighbor. We need all three for healing:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.
Love of God and neighbor wells like a fountain from the center of the deified person.
And you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.
At the eschatological wedding feast, no one will fast because “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The Bridegroom celebrated the brief span of life allotted to him on earth to be with his Bride in the flesh, giving us a glimpse of the divine mirth and affection:
Then the disciples of John approached him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast [much], but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Cracks in the cosmos caused By crunching of the fruit Requires a triple cure To cleanse the heart’s core root.
Fasting heals the person; Prayer finds God within. Almsgiving loves neighbors, Quashing the power of sin.
Person, God and neighbor— Cosmos in Trinity— Cured by consuming Christ, Crunching divinity.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15 (Revised Standard Version)
Adam, priest and king of the Lord’s garden sanctuary, had the duty “to till it and keep it.”
The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) appears throughout God’s treaty with Israel: they are to “keep” the Sabbath, commandments, festivals, and covenant.
Adam had only one law to “keep” in the garden of Eden:1
You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
The law was a matter of life and good, death and evil. Keeping the law proved Adam’s love, trust, and obedience. Preserving the law, Adam “walked” with God.
Like a father to his children, Moses gave the law to Israel:
See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the Lord, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping (shamar) his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the Lord swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.
Law and love are one in the heart of God. Keeping the law is union with God. Christ is the Law and Love Incarnate.
The Cross, the tree of life, transcended the deadly effects of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eclipsing the Mosaic polarity of “life and death” and “good and evil,” Jesus shocked the world by swallowing death and evil.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
The poisoned drink that killed Christ’s mortal body transmuted into living wine by drowning in his divinity.
St. Paul, zealous keeper of the Mosaic covenant, had to be blinded and knocked to his spiritual senses before proclaiming in wonder:
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Walking the line between life and death is a fearful thing for mortals, but Jesus walked right into the black hole of death and evil and emerged into the Light immortal and transfigured. Jesus set us free from the enslaving fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
The divine strategy was as incomprehensible in Jesus’ day as it is in ours:
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. ”Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
Christ forfeited everything to God and won heaven and the whole world. On the Cross, losers are winners.
Christ Rose Obedient Smashing Sin
1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Second Oration on Easter 8: “[God gave Adam] a law as a material for his free will to act on. This law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of and which one he might not touch.” From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.
According to Aphraates, a 4th century Syrian ascetic and bishop in the patristic tradition: “He established a new law for Adam, that he could not eat of the tree of life.” See the Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Office of Readings.
The creation story of cosmic and human origins in Genesis is shrouded in mystery, enigma, and impenetrable conundrums. The first chapter poetically captures the goodness, beauty and delight taken by the Creator God in the heavens and the earth, culminating in his “rest” (shabath) on the seventh day as in a temple. The second chapter develops the story of human origins in particular and also sets up the conflict and plot to follow. As soon as the two trees of life and knowledge are pointed out to Adam, the possibility of death is introduced.
You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil is enigmatic at this point, for “evil” would have been meaningless in a world fresh from the Creator’s hand. A limitation set on human freedom did not detract from the goodness of creation, for it was a gift to exercise Adam’s trust and love and bring him to maturity.
Will Adam pass the test? At this point, God observes something wanting in Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
After Adam names the animals, none of whom are “a helper suited” to him, God casts him into a deep sleep, “and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21).
The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.”
Adam, who was one, is now physically two. Yet “male and female” were already in the single nature of Adam before Eve was taken out of his side.
St. Ephrem the Syrian (fl. 363-373) writes:
God then brought her to Adam, who was both one and two. He was one in that he was Adam, and he was two because he had been created male and female.1
St. Ephrem’s intuition is confirmed by Christology, the apex of Christian anthropology. John’s Prologue states that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Greek word for flesh (sarx) translates the Hebrew word for flesh (basar) in Genesis 2:24 of the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The New American Bible (Revised Edition) translates basar as “body,” but offers the alternative “flesh” in its footnote.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body (flesh).
The implication is that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in assuming “flesh,” assumed both halves of humankind at once, plus all living beings, which are encompassed in the idea of sarx.
The text of Genesis does not elaborate on why it was “not good” for Adam to remain as he was, but the task of cultivating the garden and securing the fruit of the tree of life now became the joint vocation of Adam and Eve.
Psalm 128:3 evokes garden imagery to express the goodness of the home and family, a sacred space like Eden:
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; Your children like olive plants around your table.
Jesus Christ (second Adam) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (second Eve) are the ultimate answers given in the course of salvation history, for together they overcame evil and gained access to the tree of life for all living beings. The vocation of Adam and Eve to become “one flesh” and integrate the cosmos in their humanity was accomplished by Jesus and Mary virginally. Ultimately, the story is “good” because freedom, love, trust and obedience were perfected in our humanity.
Within the cosmic temple, Adam is a microcosmic temple—a dwelling place for God, the temple’s essence. Temple imagery appears in the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib,” for the Hebrew word for rib (tsela) also refers to the side chambers of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5), Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 41:5), and the side of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:20).
As Adam and Eve compose the temple of God, Christ and the Church compose the temple of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Many patristic commentators reflect that as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, the Church came forth from the side of Christ on the Cross.
St. Augustine (354-430):
Even in the beginning, when woman was made from a rib in the side of the sleeping man, that had no less a purpose than to symbolize prophetically the union of Christ and his Church. Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth that blood and water that as we know, signifies the sacraments by which the Church is built up. “Built” is the very word the Scripture uses in connection with Eve: “He built the rib into a woman.” …So too St. Paul speaks of “building up the body of Christ,” which is his Church. Therefore woman is as much the creation of God as man is. If she was made from the man, this was to show her oneness with him; and if she was made in the way she was, this was to prefigure the oneness of Christ and the Church.3
Quodvultdeus (fl. 430):
The great mystery is that Adam hopes after receiving the promise. He sees that the spouse in whom he believed is now united to him. Therefore he symbolically announces to us that through faith the Church will be the mother of humankind. It is evident that since Eve had been created from the side of the sleeping Adam, he has foreseen that from the side of Christ hanging on the cross the Church, which is in truth the mother of the whole new humankind, must be created.4
St. Ambrose (c. 333-397):
If the union of Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ’s body, bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh.5
If all Scripture speaks of Christ,6 Psalm 128:3 is the voice of the Bridegroom about his Bride, “the wife of the Lamb.”7 The poem evokes the children of God the Father around the Eucharistic table:
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; Your children like olive plants around your table.
The resurrection of Christ and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reclothed Adam and Eve in their robe of glory at their “wedding.”
The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
They were not ashamed because of the glory with which they were clothed.
St. Ephrem the Syrian8
Asleep in the garden, Eve emerged from Adam’s side— His perfect companion, Most beloved friend and bride.
Awake in Gethsemane, Prayed Adam for his wife. In a grove of olive trees, His life pledged for her life.
Asleep on the Tree of Life, The Church flowed from Jesus’ side— Blood and water from the temple, Divine life to save his Bride.
1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.12. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 69.
The Ancient Christian Commentary footnote explains: “Before Eve, Adam was two in that Eve was already implicitly within him. After Eve was created, he was two because he had been created male and female. Yet in all this duality he did not cease to be a single person, hence one.”
There is ambiguity in this explanation concerning the notions of “person” and “nature.” Based on Trinitarian anthropology, the nature of the universal Adam is one, but persons are multiple. Neither St. Ephrem nor the Ancient Christian Commentary footnoteaddresses whether Adam and Eve are unique “persons.” Current theological anthropology is still ambiguous on distinctions between person, nature and individual. Since humankind is materially divisible yet metaphysically one, the conundrum is magnified. In the case of Adam’s division, St. Ephrem intuits the simultaneity of duality and unity, but has not hardened them into concepts.
2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote for other references.
3 St. Augustine, City of God 22.17. From Ibid., 71.
4 Quodvultdeus, Book of Promises and Predictions of God 1.3. From Ibid.
5 St. Ambrose, Letters to Laymen 85. From Ibid.
6 “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” From Catechism of the Catholic Church 134, quoting Hugh of St. Victor.
7 Revelation 21:9.
8 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.14.2. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 72.