For many years, one of the things that I couldn’t figure out about the Genesis story was the line from the first reading today, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked…” Perhaps, like me, you wonder(ed), “Well, why didn’t they know they were naked before the fall? What possibly could their nakedness have to do with the fall?? Why did they make loincloths after the fall?” It was in a series of Wednesday exhortations that ultimately became his book “Theology of the Body” that then Pope John Paul II made some extremely insightful comments as to the meaning of this passage.
Before the fall Adam and Eve had total control of both their minds and their emotions and the mind ruled the emotions. Before the fall, they looked at each another as “subjects” (persons). That is, they looked at the whole person, their personality, their inner beauty and “yes” their outer beauty (their nakedness) also. But they didn’t focus on one “object” (thing) of the other person- their personality, or their eye color or their nakedness- but focused on the entire person. Moreover, their greatest joy was to give themselves totally and unselfishly to the other. There was no way that they could use the other for their own selfish motives, no way that they could view the other as an “object” (thing) to be used. Adam and Eve were “subjects” (persons) whose greatest joy each was to give him/her self to the other “subject” (person).
But after the fall, they lost control of both their minds and their emotions. Their mind no longer controlled their emotions. It was now possible to look at the other as an “object” to be used. The sexuality of the other person was now viewable, not as part of the totality of the person, but as part of that person that could satisfy the desire of the other. Their former greatest joy of giving themselves to each other was now challenged by their desire to use the other for their own benefit. So now, because of their new found ability to use each other, to put themselves and their emotions above the other, they made loincloths to hide themselves. They were hiding themselves from each other’s ability to treat the other now as an “object” to be used, rather than a “subject” to whom they could give themselves
This view of the creation story is a powerful lesson for us. On one level it asks “How many times do we look at members of the opposite sex as “objects”? But on another level, it asks “How many other ways do we treat one another as “objects” to be used rather than “subjects” to be loved and served?” You see, we do so when we take advantage of others at work to advance our own career, speak poorly about people to make ourselves look good, expect our children to drop everything and help us without considering their personal situations, talk about our problems with a relative without asking how they are doing, don’t listen to our husband/wife because we think we deserve to watch something on TV. On examination, perhaps we may find we treat people -maybe even God- more like “objects” than we realize. Authentic relationships are between “subjects”. We encourage you to read St John Paul II’s “Letter to Families” to learn more about this powerful subject. In any case though, let’s ask Jesus today when we receive him in Holy Communion to treat others as “subjects” to love and not “objects” to use.