Oct 3, 2021: 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.

God’s creation of humanity is not yet complete: man needs to be able to live in a full and deep union with another of his kind. In other words, humans are made for companionship.

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 capable of providing complete companionship.

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). This sleep is a kind of death; it’s as of God suspended the life he gave man, in order to re-shape him so that he can begin to live again in another way — by being two, man and woman, and no longer alone.

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.

God creates woman, giving her the same body as 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. Man and woman have the same dignity, for both have come from the same piece of clay that God shaped and made into a living being.

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 totality, similar to “flesh and blood” or “body and soul.” The man and woman are so close they are like one person.

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.”

Man is no longer alone. The creation of woman, therefore, marks the climax of God’s love for the human being he created.

“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

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.

Thus the institution of marriage is depicted in Scripture as being established by God at the time when human life began.

Jesus will quote this passage in today’s gospel reading as the image of what marriage is intended to be.

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 67 AD. The exact audience and author have long been disputed. With the exception of 1 John, it is the only New Testament epistle that 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. In doing this, the author emphasizes the great dignity we have because of Jesus Christ.

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.

In today’s gospel reading, Mark once more turns to Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisees.

The Pharisees approached Jesus 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?”

Instead of answering their question, Jesus asks the Pharisees to tell him how they themselves interpret the law.

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).

From a legal point of view, divorce was clearly allowed — the expected answer to the Pharisees’ question would be “yes.” However, since the Pharisees were testing him, they must have suspected that Jesus would not agree.

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.’

Then Jesus quotes from the law himself (the first five books of the Old Testament are referred to as “the law”) by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. In doing this, he is juxtaposing one passage from the law (Genesis) with another (Deuteronomy).

In Genesis, God creates both male and female in his own image, which gives them both dignity. The Mosaic law assumed that the male was the only person with any rights. The law never addresses how serious an offense a woman must commit in order to be dismissed, nor does it give a woman the right to dismiss her husband if she should find something displeasing about him.

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

Jesus finds the law very lacking when compared to the image of marriage that Genesis presents. A marriage should be a union of mutual love and respect, in which the two become one flesh. The union of man and woman in marriage is part of the created order. What God has joined together no human, not even the husband, must separate. 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 208-212 AD), An Exhortation to Chastity, 5].

In the house the disciples again questioned him about this.

Mark does not tell us how the Pharisees react to Jesus’ answer. Instead, he tells us that the disciples revisited this issue sometime later, in private.

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;

Jesus again points out the deficiencies in the Deuteronomic law, emphasizing the fact that the woman should also have rights.

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. This would have delivered a jolt to anyone hearing it — Jewish law never even addresses the possibility that a woman might do such a thing.

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 202 AD), Stromaties, 2,23,146,1].

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

Our gospel reading ends with the story of Jesus welcoming the children.

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

but the disciples rebuked them.

Children, like women, were not considered to be of equal dignity to men in Jesus’ society. In rebuking these people who were bringing their children, the disciples had clearly not yet learned the lesson we heard Jesus teaching them just two Sundays ago when he embraced a child and said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me…” (Mark 9:37).

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.

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

Not only should the disciples stop dismissing children, they should learn from them.

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

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 importantly, 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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