By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it.” — Genesis 2:15
November is stewardship month. It is a time for us to focus our attention to our divine responsibility to care for God’s creation. Stewardship of creation is a universal concern. Churches all over the world are encouraged to join hands in preventing the further deterioration of the earth’s ecological balance.
No less than Pope Francis released last year his encyclical entitled “Laudato Si”, urging Roman Catholics all over the world to care for God’s creation. My church also joins other churches all over the world in raising people’s consciousness to be good and responsible stewards of God’s creation.
Our Biblical text for reflection is about the so-called Paradise Story in the Book of Genesis (Gen. 2:4b-24). This is the second version of the creation story, but it has a different context from that of the first story of creation found in Genesis Chapter 1.
The Yahwist Writers wrote this Paradise Story during King Solomon’s time (c. 950 BCE). These writers were a group of scribes commissioned by King Solomon to write and preserve the traditions of the Israelites. Thus, in order for us to understand the message of the story, it is necessary for us to look into the experiences of the people of God during the Solomonic Era.
There are several things that describe King Solomon’s reign. First, it was during King Solomon’s time that there was a massive infrastructure program in Israel. The famous Solomon’s Palace was established. The Solomon’s Temple was built with great splendor. The walls of Jerusalem were put up. Several cities, like the cities of Hazor and Megiddo, were established. A lot of shrines for the gods and goddesses of King Solomon’s wives and concubines were put up in Jerusalem (I Kings 11). Indeed, King Solomon became famous, because of his wealth and wisdom.
But then, we may ask, where did King Solomon get his wealth? First of all, it came from the people themselves through taxes (cf. I Kings 4:21, 27-28) and forced labor (cf. I Kings 9:15). He divided his kingdom into tributary districts, and each district must contribute not only for the food of the palace, but also for the construction projects. The people from the northern part of the kingdom were also conscripted to work in the building constructions. And so, the palace was indeed rich, but the people were made poor.
Moreover, the number of King Solomon’s wives (700) and concubines (300) would give us insight into how King Solomon treated women during his reign. Some Biblical scholars are saying that one of the reasons why King Solomon had a lot of wives and concubines was due to the fact that he used these women as instruments of diplomacy. In order that a neighboring kingdom would not plan to wage a war against Israel, King Solomon would make the queen or the princess of that kingdom his wife. This is one of the reasons why King Solomon’s reign was relatively peaceful.
However, it seems that the Yahwist Writers were not happy with what King Solomon had been doing. And they expressed their criticisms through the stories they wrote. One of these stories is the Paradise Story. A paradise is a very special garden of a king intended for very special people. It is taken cared of beautifully so that whenever the king has important guests, he would bring them to his paradise to experience its beauty and serenity. The Writers of this story believe that the whole earth is a paradise, a beautiful garden, and that we are the gardeners. And God is the owner of this paradise, this beautiful garden.
There is a big difference between a garden and a jungle. There is order and beauty in a garden, while in a jungle there is disorder and chaos. There is beauty and order in a garden, because there is a gardener who is patiently and responsibly taking care of it, while in a jungle there seems to be no one in charge; each one is looking only after his own. A jungle operates under the principle of “the survival of the fittest and the elimination of the unfit”, but a garden operates under the principle of caring and compassion. Our world today is very much like a jungle, rather than a garden. The paradise, the Garden of Eden, is already lost. It must be regained.
Adam and Adamah
The Paradise Story affirms first of all the faith that the human person comes from the dust. The word Adam, which means humanity, has the same root with the word Adamah, which means earth. This interesting similarity has very powerful implications: It implies, first of all, that there is a direct relationship between the human person and the earth. Therefore, there is inter-connectedness between the human world and the earthly world. Whatever we do to care for the earth, we are in fact doing it for ourselves. If we would destroy the earth, we are also destroying our selves. Floods, droughts and other natural calamities we are experiencing today would show concretely this reality.
Moreover, it also implies that human beings have their own weaknesses or limitations. Even if we were the most powerful and wealthiest person on earth, like King Solomon, still we have come from the dust, and to the dust we shall return (cf. Gen. 3:19). And, therefore, we have to face life with a sense of humility and faith
The search for human fulfillment in life is an ultimate human search. According to the Paradise Story, all of God’s creations were paraded before Adam, not only to name them, but also to find something which could provide Adam a sense of fulfillment. But no one from among God’s material creation gave human fulfillment to Adam. Human fulfillment came to him only when Eve, a fellow human being, was created. And they together established a human community.
Throughout human history, human beings have always been searching for human fulfillment, not from the human community, but from the material world. In fact, the destruction of God’s creation is a result of human craving for more and more wealth, thinking that human fulfillment could be found in what we have. But then, we realize that the more we accumulate material things, the more we hunger for more.
Indeed, human fulfillment can only be found by sharing what we have, by having a right relationship with God and our fellow human beings. Jesus Christ our Lord is right when he said, “He who finds life shall lose it, but he who losses life for my sake shall find it” (Mt. 10:39).
This was the experience of Bill Gates, today’s richest person on earth. He realized that to be rich is a terrible responsibility. It is in sharing what we have that we find real joy in life. And so, he put up a foundation that seeks to provide good health for people throughout the world. His foundation is now doing a massive research on the cure of AIDS, an incurable disease that is killing thousands of people in the world, especially in Africa.
Women as human beings
Now, as scholars commissioned by King Solomon to write and preserve the traditions of the Israelites, the Yahwist Writers might had seen how women were treated in a monarchial society, especially by powerful monarchs like King Solomon himself. They might had seen how women were dehumanized, how they were made into slave-servants of the powers-that-be, as objects of sexual pleasure, as physical decorations of the palace, and as instruments of diplomacy. Thus, the question arose: Is this what it means to be a woman?
The same question continues to haunt us today, as we see and hear our poor young women going abroad to work as domestic helpers or entertainers, risking their very lives and dignity just to earn the much needed dollar, or even sell their bodies in order to survive. As we see and hear of women carrying solely the burdens of family responsibilities, and suffering the dehumanizing effects of a macho culture in a male-dominated society, we may also ask: Is this what it means to be a woman?
The Yahwist Writers proclaimed, “She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man “(Gen.2:23). This Biblical text is most often used to give moral and religious justification for women’s subordination to men. Some traditional Biblical interpreters declare that women should be subordinate to men, because they were taken out of the rib of men. However, such is a gross misinterpretation and distortion of the text. The text should be understood symbolically, not literally. Ironically, the intention of the text is just the opposite.
This mythical imagery in the Scriptures pictures to us a woman’s place in society, in the spheres of human life. It shows us dissatisfaction and even protest against the prevailing view concerning women in the monarchial society, wherein people, especially women, were classified and stratified according to prestige, wealth, and power, including gender.
There is an old rabbinic parable that tries to explain in figurative manner this mythical story of creation. According to the parable, the woman was formed not from the bones of the foot of a man so that she would not be lower than man, nor from the bones of the head so that she would not be higher than man. Instead, she was created out of a rib of a man so that she would be forever near the heart of humanity! “Bone taken from my bone; flesh from my flesh!”(Gen. 2:23).
To be a woman, therefore, is to affirm and assert one’s humanity. A woman is also a human being. She is a symbol of protest against any form of dehumanization. When one says, “I am a woman”, she is simply saying that she should not be treated as a thing, but as a human being. To claim that you are a woman is to claim your humanity. Woman, indeed, is part of humanity. This is what it means to be a woman.
Woman, therefore, is an equal partner of man in the long struggle to make this created world a better place to live in. For it is in such equal relationship of sharing, communing, and struggling together that humanity finds its real meaning and fulfillment.
Today, we have what we call eco-feminism. It is an assertion that the woman represents the world in which we live. For, it is in the womb of the woman where human life is formed. And it is through the mother nature of womanhood that human life is nurtured and sustained. That’s why we call the earth, Mother Earth. To care for the earth is to care for the woman. # nordis.net