The Bible is rich with details and descriptions. We often glaze over these items because the passages are so familiar. We settle for the salient nuts and bolts of a story and can miss significant meaning in the details.
Two of my Church activities merged recently and reminded me, yet again, details matter. The Walking with Purpose Bible study I’m attending, Beholding His Glory, starts at the beginning, the very beginning — Genesis. I noticed in my reading of Genesis that the garden contained two very important trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were permitted to eat from all trees, including the tree of life, and were excluded from only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I found that a bit odd while reading that it was only one tree that was prohibited, since eating from the tree of life meant they could live forever!
A few days later I was attending an RCIA class as a sponsor to a confirmation candidate and the priest in charge began the topic of reconciliation by unpacking the fall of Adam and Eve. As he explained, after eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, humans started to pass judgement. Adam and Eve passed judgement on their nakedness, they passed judgement on their sin and hid from God. When they encountered God, they began to blame others instead of taking responsibility for their actions. Living forever with the bitterness of judgement and blame now in the world, was not what God wanted for those He loved. Removing Adam and Eve from the garden and guarding the tree of life was for the benefit of mankind. It’s just a small detail, the second tree, but when you realize it’s there, the story of the fall takes on a whole different meaning. It also gives more depth to Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.
The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple was yet another opportunity to realize how important the details are. What we know of the Nativity is found in only two gospels: Matthew and Luke. Each provides different descriptions. When they are told as one story, they are usually overlapped, so that all events seem to happen either simultaneously or immediately following one another. In his homily, the celebrant pointed out that the feast of the Presentation is always celebrated on February 2nd, as that is 40 days after Christmas. Joseph and Mary would have taken Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, since Bethlehem was near enough for them to make the journey. He also reminded us that the wise men had not yet come. At that point, I remembered that in the account of the Holy Innocents, when the wise men did not report back to Herod after going to Bethlehem, he ordered that all male children under the age of 2 be slaughtered. The sequence of Jesus’ birth, the rising of the guiding star and the journey of the wise men might have taken as long as 2 years. When we celebrate these milestones yearly, we flatten the events of the Incarnation to the point that the progression can get mixed up. It’s only when we start to take into account the minutiae that we can grasp a better picture of Jesus’ life.
Some of the Old Testament books can make our head spin with details, for example, Levitcus, which lists most of the laws followed by the Jews. Yet even there, when we read in the light of Jesus coming, we see the Eucharist and many of our Catholic rituals foreshadowed. Perhaps the next time we read a passage from the Bible, instead of settling for the familiar and obvious message, maybe it’s time to dive deeper and uncover the detailed gems hiding right in front of our eyes.