Oct 7, 2018: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

1st Reading – Genesis 2:18-24

The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;
whatever the man called each of them would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
all the birds of the air, and all wild animals;
but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,
and while he was asleep,
he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib
that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one flesh.

Every year during the Easter vigil, we hear the first creation account from Genesis (1:1-2:2), where God creates everything in six days and rests on the seventh.

Today’s reading comes from what’s known as the second creation account (2:4b-2:25), which elaborates on Genesis 1:27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.

Humans are made for companionship.

“If there were such a thing as a loneliness which could no longer be penetrated and transformed by the word of another… then we should have real, total loneliness and frightfulness, what theology calls ‘hell.’”  — Pope Benedict XVI

So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air,

God forms the animals in the same manner as he formed Adam, but without breathing into them the “breath (ruah) of life” (Genesis 2:7).

and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.

In Hebrew etymology, to know the name of something is to have power over it.  Here, Adam is granted the authority to give the names, not just know them.

The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.

Despite being made of the same material, no animal was found fit to serve as a suitable partner for the unique creature of man.

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

The deep sleep of man suggests the mysterious and highly significant nature of God’s
activity (see Genesis 15:12).  Note that the man played no part in the woman’s creation, nor was he even awake to witness it.

The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man.

The fact that the woman was built from one of the ribs of the man has led some to consider her inferior to him.  Such an argument is empty: after all, the man is certainly not inferior to the dirt from which he was formed.

When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;

The word pair “bone and flesh” is a typical way of expressing comprehensiveness, similar to “flesh and blood” or “body and soul.”

These terms have psychological as well as physiological meanings and should be understood in this larger context.

This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”

The woman (‘iššâ) is built from the man (‘iš).  The first part of the passage uses the general term for “man” (‘adam), but ’iš has relationship undertones and is often translated as “husband.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife,

The phrase “that is why” indicates that what follows is the point of the teaching.  The focus of the account is the nature of the relationship between man and woman, rather than providing a technical description of their creation.

and the two of them become one body.

Prompted by the powerful natural drive of the sexes to be physically united, a man will disengage from his primary relationship and responsibility (his family of origin) and establish a new social unit.

In a patriarchal society, the importance of this shift of loyalties cannot be underestimated.

2nd Reading –  Hebrews 2:9b-11

Brothers and sisters:
He “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,”
that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

For it was fitting that he,
for whom and through whom all things exist,
in bringing many children to glory,
should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.
He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated
all have one origin.
Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers.’

The book of Hebrews is probably a homily rather than an actual letter, and was likely written around A.D. 67.  The exact audience and author have long been disputed.  With the exception of 1 John, it is the only New Testament epistle which begins without a greeting mentioning the writer’s name. A reference to Timothy (13:23) suggests connections to the circle of Paul and his assistants.

Today’s reading discusses the exaltation of Jesus through his abasement, and highlights his solidarity with the rest of the human family.

Brothers and sisters: He “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,”

A reference to Psalm 8:5-6, where humans are extolled as being just slightly lower than the angels and given dominion over the rest of the natural world.

Jesus lived a truly human existence, lower than the angels, particularly in his suffering and death.  However, for him to be made lower than the heavenly beings was a humbling experience; as purely spiritual beings, angels are not subject to suffering, punishment, or death.

that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Jesus not only emptied himself of his divine privileges, he did so in order to empty himself in death for the sake of everyone else.

Tasting death is framed as occurring by the grace of God: a surprising juxtaposition.  Jesus suffered disgrace and torment to fulfill God’s will, but such a depiction suggests a cruel and malicious God and challenges the concept of divine justice. The author is setting the framework for theodicy, the vindication of the goodness of God in the face of what appears to be evil and unjust.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist,

God is the all-powerful fountainhead of creation.  In him, all that he has made finds its purpose (1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36).

in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

The author explains that contrary to human logic, Jesus’ self-emptying death is actually consistent with God’s character and purpose.

God, the creator of all things, seeks to bring all men and women — his “children” — to glory.  However, because they have sinned, they are in need of salvation. It is fitting that the one who will lead them to this salvation, Jesus, will himself have been brought to perfect reconciliation with God through the kind of suffering that will reconcile the rest.

This unique kind of solidarity is consistent with divine justice.

He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.”

Through obedient suffering, Jesus is perfected as high priest.  As such, he is then able to consecrate his people and provide access to God for all.

By taking on a human form and nature, Jesus shares our origin.  Rather than being some distant deity, he is our brother and is not ashamed to claim us as such (Romans 8:14-17).

Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
They replied,
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
But Jesus told them,
“Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.”

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
“Let the children come to me;
do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.”
Then he embraced them and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.

Today’s gospel reading consists of three scenes: the Pharisees testing Jesus, Jesus providing private instruction to his disciples, and Jesus using the presence of children to teach about the reign of God.

 The Pharisees approached Jesus

The Pharisees were a religious party whose membership was largely lay, as opposed to the
Sadducees, whose membership was mostly clerical. Unlike the Sadducees, who regarded
only the Torah as binding, the Pharisees acknowledged the oral traditions of the elders as
having binding power.

and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”

The Greek word used here for divorce is apolysai, “to send away.”

They were testing him.

The Pharisees were not asking about the acceptability of divorce, as there was no question that it was permitted by law.  Matthew 21:3 adds to the question the words, “for every cause.”  They might have been testing to see if Jesus would disagree with Moses, or they might have been trying to force him to take a stand on the appropriate grounds for divorce, which were stated only vaguely in the law.

This issue was a source of rabbinic debate: some insisted that adultery was the only valid reason for divorce, but others held a more liberal position (see Matthew 5:32; 19:9).

He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”

Jesus uses his knowledge of Mosaic Law to answer their question.

They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”

Divorce was not a public legal action in a court, the husband simply wrote out a decree (e.g., “I release and divorce my wife this day”) and gave it to her (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Though these seems to favor easy divorce, in reality divorce was very infrequent in the first century Jewish community.

But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.

Without undermining the authority of Mosaic tradition, Jesus points out that it is a concession to human weakness.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’

Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, juxtaposing one Old Testament passage (Genesis) with another (Deuteronomy).’

These references attribute two essential qualities to marriage: unity (the two shall become one), and mutual interdependence.  Neither man alone nor woman alone embodies the fullness of God’s creative design, but man and woman in union mirror the mystery of God.

So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Jesus demonstrates that in God’s design of marriage, the a husband and wife become one flesh and must not be separated.  Because they are “one flesh,” divorce is impossible.

“I will call your attention to the law of monogamy. The very origin of the human race sanctions it. It is abundantly clear that God ordained it at the beginning as a pattern for posterity. For after He had made Adam, and had foreseen the necessity of providing a helpmate for him, He borrowed from his loins one alone. One woman only did He design for man” [Tertullian (between A.D. 208-212), An Exhortation to Chastity, 5].

In the house the disciples again questioned him about this.

This is not the house in Capernaum, because Mark 10:1 tells us that Jesus has left Galilee and is in Judea.

He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

In a society where a woman’s reproductive potential belonged first to her father and then to her husband, adultery could be committed only against the man whose rights over the woman had been violated.

Here, Jesus teaches that the man who remarries is committing adultery against his first wife, establishing that the woman has rights in the relationship as well.

and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Further expanding the rights of women, Jesus envisions a situation where a woman divorces her husband.  According to Jewish law only the husband could institute divorce proceedings.

Jesus’ teaching does not make the demands of marriage easier, but it does place the marriage partners on equal footing.  Note that Jesus offers no condemnation of those who have divorced; in John’s gospel, Jesus defends a woman about to be stoned for adultery (7:53 – 8:11) and gives a special mission to the Samaritan woman at the well, who has been married several times.  This demonstrates the need for pastoral concern for those who have suffered divorce, while simultaneously presenting a vision of what marriage should be.

“Guilt in this does not attach merely to the man who divorces her. It attaches also to the man who takes her on, since he provides the starting point for the woman’s sin.” [Saint Clement of Alexandria (after A.D. 202), Stromaties, 2,23,146,1].

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,

People were seeking a blessing of their children through the imposition of hands.  It doesn’t appear that they were in need of any cure, and the fact that they were being brought by their parents indicates that were probably too young to be taught.

The parents were seeking a blessing for the benefit of their children’s souls, knowing that Christ could reach their hearts.

but the disciples rebuked them.

Why did the disciples disapprove of the children? No explanation is given.  This is especially odd since Jesus had just recently cautioned them not to despise children (Mark 9:36-37).

When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Jesus makes the children the symbol and model of those who would enter the reign of God.

True believers, like small children, know they have nothing to bring and everything to receive.

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”  

This teaching might mean that the reign must be received with innocence, openness, and trust, the way that children receive everything that they need (versus using human power or status to create or force it).

Or it could mean that the disciples must humble themselves and become like children, who in the eyes of society are insignificant, weak, and dependent.

Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

The image of Jesus, an unmarried prophet, taking children in his arms is a powerful one.  It should haunt our consciences in the midst of childhood hunger and suffering both here and abroad.

Connections and Themes

  • This week’s readings are bound together loosely by a theme of family, all of which have been redefined by Christ: marriage, brotherhood with Christ, the vulnerability and receptivity of children.
  • Too often, even among believers, couples fail to consider marriage from a religious point of view.  There is no question in their mind about being joined to one another, but when people marry, they don’t always think about being joined with Christ.  It isn’t that Christ is a third party in the union; it’s more profound than that.  Christ, who is the symbol of God’s presence in the world, is the foundation of that union.
  • When two people “become one,” they become an outward sign of the love of God.  They open themselves to each other in love because God has first loved them.  By becoming one in marriage, they create something new, reflecting the creative power of God and underscoring the selfless love that is modeled in Christ.
  • Christ, one in being with God, became human like us, “lower than the angels.”  He shared our human nature; he lived the highs and lows of the human experience.  He redefined family relationships, claiming that blood bonds were no longer the determinant for establishing kinship.  Instead, those who hear and keep the word of God, those who commit themselves to God in faithful discipleship, are his brothers and sisters.  The very idea that God would seek such an intimate relationship with us — that he would become one of us and claim us as a brother — is both radical and awe inspiring.
  • Discipleship demands that we step into the unknown, requiring profound trust in the manner of a child.  We must trust in ourselves, trust each other, and most important, trust God.  We must also be open — open to give and open to receive.
  • Children are innocent, unpretentious, receptive.  While we have lost our innocence through sin, we must repossess these attributes.  How do we accomplish that?  By becoming recreated; reborn in Christ.

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