THE TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – October 7, 2018

A reading from the Book of Genesis 2:18-24
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 2:9-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:2-16

Dear Friends in Christ,

We have much to consider in the readings as we prepare for the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday.  The homilist will be challenged to break open the word for us so that we are nourished and led to a deeper understanding of the nature of human relationship as God intended, its permanence in marriage, and, I believe, its permanence in the Church.  We speak of the Church as the Bride of Christ.  There are implications for us in terms of our relationship with Christ and with each other.  There is a lot to think about here and ample reason for us to pray for the grace of enlightenment and the courage to live by what the Spirit reveals.

We begin with the reading from the Book of Genesis.  There are some important details that we should not miss.  This is the beginning of the story of creation and man’s place in it.  This is not a scientific treatise.  Rather, it is a theological interpretation of the world as God called it into being.  There is a hierarchy of beings that inhabit it – all God’s creatures.

Hear God’s first words in the text: It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him.  This would seem to indicate, at least from God’s point of view, that it is essential to the human experience to live in relationship.  There is ample evidence regarding the effects of solitary confinement to substantiate that.  Isolation breaks the human spirit.

God begins to form all the wild animals and the birds of the air.  All are put before the man.  Perhaps this is to see if one of the creatures will put an end to the man’s being alone.  That does not prove to be the case as one by one the creatures prove to be inadequate.  Notice that the man names each of the species.  What’s in a name?  Shakespeare asked the question.  More than the Bard thought, at least in this text.  As the man names them one by one it becomes clear that the man is intelligent and knows the essence of each creature.  So he can assign the name.  Second, naming the creature gives the man rule over it.  The man, under God, is at the apex of the creatures with God-given dominance.  But that is not enough for the man.  He is still alone.  None of the creatures is a suitable partner.

God puts the man into a deep sleep and removes a rib that God then builds up into a woman.  Something different is happening here.  For the first time the being is not formed out of earth, but from the rib, or life substance of the man.  The woman shares the essence of the man.  As he had the other creatures, the man names her woman for out of her man this one was taken.  The man’s exaltation is clear.  He is now a complete human being as is she in their union, as the two become one flesh.  The conjugal union is an expression of God’s will.  In their being one flesh, they are the image of God.  It will be eons before the equality of the sexes will be accepted.  In fact, there are some who do not accept that yet.  

Now we turn to the gospel.  Once again the Pharisees confront Jesus.  These confrontations are always attempts to ensnare Jesus, to catch him saying something that seems to deny the Law.  Or perhaps he will carry on a practice construed to be a major infraction of the Law.  Remember, Jesus cured on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees will be able to denounce him.  Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?  As he often does, Jesus turns the tables on them as he asks if they know what Moses commanded them in the Law.  Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.  The husband could do this.  Not the wife.  The grounds could be trivial.  The wife had no rights.  She could be discarded at will.

Now Jesus becomes the confronter.  Moses may have allowed this practice because of the hardness of your hearts.  The Pharisees may accept such actions as being in keeping with the Law.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus says, this is not in accord with God’s will.  To substantiate this, Jesus quotes the concluding lines from our Genesis reading.  His proclamation is absolute and must have been shocking to the Pharisees who were comfortable with the status quo.  If a husband writes a bill of divorce, dismissing his wife, and marries another, that union is adulterous.  Do not miss the subtle elevation of the woman’s dignity as Jesus cites the other side of the coin.  If she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.  The wife ought to have the same dignity and power as the husband, the same standing before the Law.

What can be inferred?  There is no question that Jesus condemned divorce.  Put positively, Jesus avowed the indissolubility of marriage.  Marriage is the living out of the great declaration of the two being one flesh.  What God has joined together, no human being must separate.  Lived ideally, marriage is a safe and secure relationship between husband and wife that lasts until the death of one or the other of them.

The union is sacramental.  That lived reality reveals the communion of persons that is God.  Like all the sacraments, Marriage has significance for the whole Church.  That is why Marriage is celebrated in the church where the Assembly gathers to celebrate Eucharist.  The man and the woman perform the sacrament that is witnessed by the priest and the Assembly.  In marrying each other, the couple pledges to love each other and the community in which they live, just as Christ does in his union with the Church.  Remember, the Church is the Bride of Christ.  Lives of service in imitation of Christ’s are implied.  Just as Christ cannot be separated from the Church, neither can the husband and wife be separated from each other.  That is the ideal.

There is evidence that it was not that long into the Christian era before exceptions to the law began to emerge.  The first grounds admitted for divorce was adultery.  A little later, someone not baptized could leave a marriage with another non-baptized, and so be baptized into Christ and marry another Christian.  Paul allowed for that.  Such action to this day is called the Pauline Privilege.  We will not go any further with this.  Our purpose is to recognize the ideal that Christ puts before us and to recognize that on occasion the ideal does not work out.  There is the reality of divorce.  A marriage can die.  There is in the Church the reality of annulment.  It is sad when either happens.

Not everyone in the Church marries for whatever the reason.  Celibacy is imposed on those who would be priests or religious.  Some choose the single state.  Still, the adage remains: It is not good for the man or woman to be alone.  Humans ought not live in isolation.  Those who are baptized are baptized into union with Christ and with the Church.  That union is celebrated and proclaimed each time we gather to celebrate Eucharist.  Remember celebrating Eucharist is not a private devotion as is praying the rosary or making the Stations of the Cross.  In each Eucharistic celebration, the whole Church is present.  We share a meal and call it Holy Communion.  It might be easy to spring to the conclusion that we are talking about the resulting union between the one receiving Communion and Christ.  But that would bee only half the story.  Holy Communion results in a union with Christ, to be sure, but also with each other and the whole Church.  That is why we call the action Holy Common Union.  Remember the hymn that often accompanies the Communion Procession?  One bread, one Body, one Lord of all/ One cup of blessing which we bless/ and we though many throughout the earth/ We are one Body in this one Lord.

The hymn is a profound summation of the reality that all have a right to live by virtue of their Baptism.  The faith community ought to strive to make that right a reality for all – not just for the elite, not just for those of one race or gender, not just for the acceptable, the hale and the hearty.  All are welcome at this table.  All can come with plenty or in want and find acceptance and, those in need, support.  The Assembly catechizes.  The Assembly baptizes and calls to full stature in the Church.  The Assembly witnesses marriages.  The Assembly mourns those who die.  The Assembly proclaims in word and deed that no one ought to feel alone or abandoned.  All are part of the one Body that is Christ.

This places huge demands on the Assembly.  Tithing is the acceptance of that responsibility.  It is amazing the results when the majority of the parishioners commit themselves to tithing.  All of a sudden there is plenty to meet the needs of the many and to reach out and embrace all who have been brought low.  And no one is alone.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus 

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