I listened to the readings last night, at the Mass for the Immaculate Conception, and I began to ponder.
I pondered Genesis, the account of the Fall of Man and their punishment. I pondered the psalm: sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous deeds. I pondered the epistle: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. I pondered the Gospel, where Miriam the New Eve consents to be the Mother of God.
And then I went back to Genesis.
The passage starts right after the Fall, if you remember. It doesn’t begin with them eating the fruit; that’s already been done. It begins with our ancestors hiding in the bushes. And then God appears on the scene, walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
Where was God before, when they were being tempted by the serpent? That I can’t tell you. There’s a lot I can’t tell you. But anyway, here comes God. And God doesn’t say what I’d expect Him to say.
The first words out of God’s mouth are “Where are you?”
And then He asks “Who told you that you were naked?”
Not “Adam you failure, you were supposed to keep her safe” or “Eve you idiot, I told you not to eat that.” That’s what I would imagine He’d say. But He doesn’t.
The first words of God after the Fall of Man are “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?”
The immediate reaction of God to the Fall is “Where are my children, and who taught them to be ashamed?”
In the beginning, there was no shame. We were naked and vulnerable, but we didn’t know, because we hadn’t been hurt. Being hurt is how you find out you’re vulnerable. And then, somehow, we were hurt, and now we know we’re vulnerable. We’re ashamed, and we hide. We are hiding to this day. All of human history is vulnerability and exploitation of vulnerability, fig leaves and animal skins, enmity between the serpent and the children of Eve, men lording it over their wives, the ground spitting out thorns.
That terrible wound echoes and reverberates throughout history like an atom bomb, and its fallout has hurt all of us.
It all rolls downhill quickly from there.
Abel is murdered and Cain runs away. Noah is sexually humiliated by his sons. Abraham gives Sarai away to be raped by the king of Egypt, and then he rapes Hagar and abandons her, and then he ties Isaac to an altar. Jacob is tricked into marrying Leah and makes her life and her sister’s miserable, and then he rapes Bilhah and Zilpah. The sons of Jacob sell Joseph into slavery and lie that he’s dead to break their father’s heart. Joseph is sexually abused by Potiphar’s wife and goes to jail for it. The sons of the Twelve Tribes of Israel are subjected to genocide. When they finally escape, they commit genocide back in their homeland and claim God told them to. Jethro murders his daughter. The Levite’s concubine is raped to death. David rapes Bathsheba and murders her husband to cover his tracks. The kings of Israel and Judah make greater and greater pigs of themselves until the kingdoms fall to Babylon. Hadassah, called Esther, is forced into marriage to the violent king, and she hates it so much that she despises her crown like a polluted rag. And so on all throughout human history, eons and eons of vulnerable people being hurt.
What if God’s response, to all of this, forever and ever, is to try to find us, and be horrified that we’re vulnerable?
And then He finds us.
He approaches us in the most vulnerable person: a woman, in a culture where women have no rights. And not really a woman but a very young girl, in a world where young girls are sold like livestock. The only daughter of her parents, in a culture where many children is considered a sign of Divine Favor. A member of an enslaved people in an occupied country. Not the priest, but a servant in the temple.
He doesn’t do to her what humans do to vulnerable humans. He does something entirely new. He sends His angel ahead of Him to explain and ask permission, and Miriam consents.
He enters her without sexual intercourse, without hurting or changing her in any way. She remains a virgin the entire time. That a wondrous, impossible miracle that has been explained in the most ugly, victim-blaming ways, to shame every woman who isn’t a virgin. But in light of our terrible history, it looks different to me. It looks to me like God respects the bodily integrity of vulnerable people, even though humans usually don’t.
God Himself becomes a vulnerable man, and suffers. He suffers as we suffer. He is physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abused. He is abused to death. He descends into hell. He brings with Him out of hell everyone who wants to go, including those first parents from the dawn of human history.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.
Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous deeds.
That’s what I was pondering in Mass yesterday.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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