Trouble with the Tree

On the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, Apostle

By James Cornwell

A Reading from Hebrews 5:7-14  

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

11 About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.


We are all likely familiar with the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, how they took and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and for their disobedience were cast out from the garden into the world to toil, suffer, and die.

Some have taken this to mean that such knowledge should have always been forbidden, but the writer of today’s reading would likely disagree. Indeed, the author states that maturity is expressed through having one’s faculties “trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”

The difference between the garden and maturity comes in two forms, which may be instructive to our own growth. First, the story in Genesis notes that Eve (and, by extension, Adam) found the fruit of the tree to be “a delight to the eyes.” In contrast, the author of today’s epistle argues that the incapacity for discernment is rooted in becoming “dull of hearing.” The second aspect flows from this: The fruit of the tree of knowledge was seized by Adam and Eve — they sought to possess this knowledge. In contrast, the writer to the Hebrews emphasizes the importance of receiving training by others in the practice of discernment. That is, the true ability to distinguish good from evil is a practice that is ultimately received, rather than taken. Just as the immature eye looks upon the world as a thing to be covetously seized, the well-trained ear seeks to hear truth that it might be joyously received.

But to whom do we turn to receive this discernment? Today the Church commemorates the Confession of St. Peter. St. Peter symbolizes the Church, and his confession that Jesus is the Christ confers upon that Church authority. Therefore, it is the Church to which we should turn our ear in all her gifts — her prayers, the Word, the sacraments — that we may achieve that toward which our forebears could only reach.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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The Diocese of Jos – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
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