Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time



Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Genesis 2:18-24; Response: Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Second Reading: Hebrews 2:9-11; Gospel: Mark 10:2-16

It is not well known to many that there are creation stories in the Old Testament besides the best known stories in Genesis 1 & 2. They are found in different forms of literature. The creation stories of Psalms 8, the first part of Psalm 19, and Psalm 104 are hymns in poetry. So is the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. This famous creation hymn chants in poetic form that God is sole Creator, that he formed most of creation in six days, and finally created the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day. Composers of the hymn were priests, therefore it was part of a liturgy. The verses would be chanted by a cantor, the refrain sung by a choir or as a people’s response. Our first reading today is part of the creation story of Genesis 2. By editorial arrangement, it follows the creation hymn of Genesis 1, though it is much older than Genesis 1. It is not a hymn, but a narrative; a story-form. It also reveals that God is the sole Creator. In the preceding hymn, humanity is created, male and female, together on the sixth day. There are no days of creation in Genesis 2. There are some similarities between the two creation stories, but the creation of humanity is very different in Genesis 2.

The Man was created first. As our reading begins, we hear God talking to himself, “It is not good for The Man to be alone. I will make a partner suitable for him. Partner is a better English translation than helper. The latter translation was surely determined by the secondary role society assigned to women. But the Hebrew Bible uses the same noun translated as helper for The Woman and for God, yet no one concludes that God is secondary to The Man. Partner is good, but enabler is also an accurate translation. God’s first attempt at creating a partner did not turn out well. He created all the animals first, “but for The Man there was not found a partner fit for him.” God turns first surgeon! After anesthetizing The Man, he extracts a rib. He builds a yet-unnamed creature around that rib. He presents the newly expanded rib to The Man. The Man has earlier named all the animals, so he came up with a new name. “This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, for out of her Man this one has been taken.” The closing statement of our reading determined its selection to accompany today’s gospel, which catechizes about the creation and union of male and female. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.”

The first reading established the family. Psalm 128 continues the family theme in metaphors of nature. “Your wife shall be a fruitful vine within your house. Your children will be like olive plants around your table. May you see your children’s children.” Not only do we have a picturesque depiction of a family meal but a petition for parents to have the joy of grandchildren. The rest blesses daily work, and blesses Jerusalem and Israel. The people’s response blesses our daily life, “May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.”

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews deals with his readers’ confusion of the role of angels versus the role of the Son in God’s plan. The angels are servants of the Son and servants of us. The author admits that, for a little while, the Son was made lower than the angels; that is, in his human nature. That, however, was only so that the Son, “for whom and through whom all things exist,” could undergo suffering and death. In this way, but only because of and through his human nature, the Son became the Leader of salvation for the rest of humanity, who by their very nature undergo suffering and death.

In today’s gospel, Mark catechizes in two stories: divorce/remarriage: Jesus and the children. Lawyers (scribes) of the Pharisee faction question Jesus. “Does the Torah (Law) permit a husband to divorce his wife?” In the debate form of those times, the opponent counters with his own question. This puts the burden of an answer on the initiators. Jesus asks, “What did Moses command?” They reply that Moses allowed divorce. They have in mind Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man marries a woman, if she finds no favor in his eyes because of some indecency he found in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce . . . .” The context of this quote deals with a man divorcing his wife and later remarrying her. That was forbidden. Lawyers do not always need context to interpret a law but stretch it to deal with other issues. Here the issue was the causes or excuses for a divorce. There were progressives and conservatives in the legal profession. Conservatives allowed divorce for adultery; Progressive scribes for almost any cause. Examples: if a wife was not a competent cook, or if the husband found a more pleasing woman, etc. Unbelievably they based such conclusions on the words, “if he found some indecency in her.”

Mark’s catechesis allows no excuse or cause for divorce. His instruction: Moses allowed divorce because the hardheartedness of his people, but that was not God’s original plan. Mark quotes Jesus, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” An explanation follows.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” That seems ironclad, but both Paul and Matthew allow some causes for divorce and remarriage. See Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15. The Church does not grant divorces, but in her laws and practices she adopts a merciful approach for couples caught in impossible situations. By immediately adding the story of Jesus and the children to the catechesis about divorce and remarriage, does Mark hint at relief in impossible situations because of the children? The answer must be left to theologians, canon lawyers and Scripture scholars. When Paul, in 1 Corinthians, was dealing with a very different ‘marriage case,’ he did allow divorce in these words, “in such a case the brother or sister is not bound, for God has called us to peace.” Can these words be applied to other cases?