Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

By Father Paul Nord

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15; Response: Psalm 130:1-8; Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1; Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

The creation accounts of Genesis 1–2 are followed by Genesis 3, which recounts Eve and Adam sinning against God by eating from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” In Genesis 2:16-17, this tree is described. Genesis 3:1-7 is Eve’s conversation with the snake who tempts and tricks her into eating the fruit of this tree. Adam likewise eats this fruit, forbidden by God.

Today’s first reading (Genesis 3:9-15) is after their sin. Notice that the relationship between God and Adam/Eve has been damaged. Adam and Eve are now afraid for two reasons. First, they know that they have sinned against God. They were given all they needed, yet they disobeyed. Second, Adam and Eve now realize their vulnerability — their nakedness.

Further, Adam and Eve’s relationship has been damaged. This is the consequence of sin — to divide us from each other, and to divide us from God. When God speaks to Adam about his sin, Adam accuses Eve of giving him the fruit instead of acknowledging his own guilt. Likewise, Eve avoids acknowledging her guilt by blaming the serpent. We only deepen our enslavement to sin by our efforts to avoid and shift blame. Trying to avoid the just consequences of our sin often leads to further sin.

After this, God describes to the serpent, Eve and Adam the consequences of their sin (3:14-19). Today’s reading only includes what God tells the serpent, which continues the theme of sin causing division. God says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” This introduces conflict between humanity and other creatures who are now a mortal threat.

Similarly with Eve, the consequence of her sin is conflict between her and Adam: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). For Adam, the consequence of his sin is conflict between him and the ground — the soil. 

Recall that “the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).” Because of his sin, Adam is now in a conflictual relationship with the ground, from which he was formed. But he still must work the ground to have food to live. This conflict is expressed by the ground’s “thorns and thistles” (3:18), plus Adam’s sweat and toil for food — previously given freely by God (Genesis 2:9). Likewise, Eve was formed from a rib taken from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:21-24), but now their original unity (“flesh of my flesh”) is broken by sin.

But the ultimate consequence of sin is given last: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Death is the final consequence of sin. Sin divides Adam and Eve from God — the source of all life. Therefore sin divides Adam and Eve from life itself. In time, sin will cause them to lose the breath of life — a gift of God. Thus they will return to the dust from which God formed them.

Our second reading, from 2nd Corinthians, quotes Psalm 116:10 in its Greek Septuagint form: “I believed, therefore I spoke.” Paul expects us to remember the rest of the psalm — which describes a person who is afflicted and suffering, but he trusts in God’s deliverance. Like the psalmist, Paul trusts that God will deliver him from his present suffering: “knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:14). For this reason, we should give abundant thanks, says Paul.

Next Paul continues this contrast between suffering and deliverance — indeed glorification — promised by God. Thus in 4:16 Paul contrasts “our outer self is wasting away” versus “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” It is notable that Paul sees his deliverance/glorification as happening already now — “renewed day by day.” Paul is describing how a Christian is conformed to the image of Christ through baptism and by imitating Christ is his self-sacrificial love. If we share in Christ’s sufferings in this present age, then we will share in Christ’s glorification both in this present age and in the age to come.

Paul contrasts “momentary light affliction” versus “an eternal weight of glory.” The affliction “is producing for us” the glory. Likewise, Paul contrasts “our earthly dwelling, a tent” which can be destroyed — versus “a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.” Paul acknowledges that the transitory suffering is seen, but insists that the glorification is “unseen” and “eternal” (4:18).

Today’s gospel is the final verses of Mark 3. Jesus announced in Mark 1:15: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” After this, the first three chapters of Mark show Jesus busy with four things: 1) calling his disciples, 2) teaching about the arriving kingdom of God, 3) healing numerous sick and disabled people, and 4) expelling unclean spirits from those who are afflicted.

By doing these things, Jesus shows himself to be the Son of God (as announced in Mark 1:1) with God’s life-giving power over sickness and over unclean spirits. Further, Jesus’ actions show him bringing the “kingdom of God.” This is necessarily a defeat of Satan and all that is opposed to God.

This is the context for today’s gospel, in which Jesus’ relatives and the scribes accuse him of being “out of his mind” and “possessed by Beelzebul” (3:20-21). In the next verse, Jesus apparently equates Beelzebul with Satan. The disputed question is by whose power Jesus is driving out demons. Jesus shows that it is ridiculous to say that he is driving out demons by Satan’s power because then evil would be “a kingdom ... divided against itself.” Instead, Jesus has brought “the kingdom of God” which is defeating the kingdom of sin and death. Jesus’ victories over sickness and unclean spirits demonstrates this. Jesus’ actions show that the Holy Spirit is acting in a new powerful way.

Benedictine Father Paul Nord is a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and teaches at Saint Meinrad Seminary. His Sunday Scripture columns are © Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.