Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic, Stone

Including Sacred Heart Church, Eccleshall
 

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27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Just a Thought

Today in our readings we hear of Creation, Marriage, and the question of divorce. The first pages of the Book of Genesis, written by sages at the end of long meditations on the origins of the universe and of humankind — on life, evil and death — focus on all the great questions humans keep asking themselves throughout time. Here they set down the outcome of their reflections, which had recourse to a literary genre that was both popular and sophisticated. Indeed, while they are accessible even to the simplest of people, these narratives are in no way naive. These inspired sages were believers, endowed with an already long experience of initiatives and solicitude of God, toward His own. Thus they learnt that all that happens in the world and history is willed or permitted by this personal and transcendent God, who, made himself known to humanity precisely by the interventions of His sovereign power and revelations. The ultimate explanation of the world and humankind is here.

Everything happened because the Creator ‘In the beginning’ so willed it. Consequently, in spite of all appearances nothing is the result of chance or accident — it is all by design. The sages pondered the mysteries of man and woman and the deep-seated impulse that attracts them to each other. This, too, has been willed by God, as we read all throughout today’s first reading from Genesis. The Book of Genesis relates two accounts of Creation. The text we read today belongs to the older tradition of the two — much shorter and less elaborate than the other; this account today, immediately addresses the question of the origin of humankind. ‘Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.’ (Gen 2:5-24) (The other narrative is found in Genesis 1:1-24). The emphasis is on the fact that the creation of humans was anterior to the appearance of any other form of life and also superior to any other form. Only afterwards, according to this tradition did God plant the garden in which He placed man who was to till and care for it. He was alone, and in spite of the splendour of the domain, irrigated by a great river, dividing into four branches, and trees bearing excellent fruit, this solicitude was not good for him. God therefore decided to create “a suitable partner for him” — “I will make him a helpmate.” But before this: ‘From the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These He brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it.’ Although made in the same manner as humans God does not breathe into them the same ‘Breath of Life’. This majestic simplicity of man naming the wild beasts expresses in a vivid way that God Himself, who created heaven and earth, has given to humankind mastery/stewardship over all living beings populating earth and sky. And yet still, although man enjoys power to define all other living beings, to call them by names of his own making — still there is no ‘suitable partner’ for him. There is no-one he can have dialogue with on an equal footing, saying ‘You’ and ‘I’. He realises he is a creature apart, a living being of a kind other than the innumerable living things that populate the earth. The emergence of this consciousness of his singularity, of this transcendent otherness of his being is in a word his ‘Humanity.’ He needs an equal as his partner. This, from the beginning, was always the Creator’s intention: “I will make a suitable partner for him.” — Therefore ‘The Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep’ God, with man’s rib rather than clay, ‘[builds] it up into a woman’, and, like a Father at a wedding presents her to the man who, waking from his ‘deep sleep’ cries out in wonder: “This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! This is to be called woman, for it was taken from man.” The act of Creation always escapes detection; it is accomplished outside time — Each account in its own way emphasises the equal dignity of man and woman, whom God made, in His own image ‘from the beginning’ as perfectly matched partners.

The narrative of the Creation of woman could have stopped here: but the writer added a conclusion, certainly at the behest of God, that reveals the nature of his reflection on the mysteries of man and woman — because man and woman derive their origin from one single flesh, so man and woman are impelled by their nature to recover their original unity: ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body.’ And this is why, for instance, that same sex marriage is such a nonsense!

This narrative attests to a remarkably lofty vision of the human couple and sexuality. It is the search for communion that drives man and woman toward union, and not the impulse of carnal, uncontrollable, blind instinct. From the beginning, God has placed woman at man’s side, like to him, of the same nature, from the same flesh. He has married them together as one flesh and has told them: “Go forth and multiply.Procreate children for my kingdom.” The authors of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis were sages imbued with this tradition. They understood that the grandeur of the universe and humankind, the guarantee of their future and happiness were found in the blessing of God, who made all things beautiful and good. Our Gospel today is closely connected. If God made man and woman to be married together and become one flesh, then it is not surprising that Jesus relates God’s position on divorce — a man-made law which in many ways contradicts the Law of God and of Creation. We see here what Jesus has to say on the indissoluble character of marriage.

The occasion was a question put by a group of Pharisees who approached Jesus asking: “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?” They of course, as usual were testing him — and had put this question in order to trap him and cause him embarrassment. There were two Schools of thought on this subject at the time, moreover, they were at odds with each other. One the stricter, allowed recourse to divorce only for a grave reason; but according to the Book of Deuteronomy (24:1), divorce was apparently acceptable when for instance, the wife no longer pleased her husband. Under these conditions, any answer Jesus could make would set him in opposition to one party or the other. Also, Jesus had recently arrived in Judea (Mk 10:1), a region under Herod’s jurisdiction. Remember, Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, ultimately beheading him, because he had reproached Herod for divorcing his wife and living with the wife of his brother Philip; here too, Jesus could fall into a trap. Either he would disavow the ‘Baptist’, whom people venerated, or would be a target for Herod’s anger. Jesus does not get enmeshed in this net of trickery. Rather, He asks his questioners what they themselves think; why? And at what level they are asking the question. This is not a clever ploy to evade a bad situation, but rather an honest reflex, so to speak: Jesus is the Truth. Without this preliminary clarification, the dialogue would be ambiguous, unclear. Knowing that he was dealing with lawyers and not with persons submitting an actual case to him, He asks: “What did Moses command you?” They answered unhesitatingly: “Moses permitted [the husband] to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” This answer correctly expresses the content of the Law that, indeed, allowed a man to send his wife away if he found in her a hidden blemish. This legislation concerns a woman’s status and rights in society. In Middle Eastern and Greek societies of that time, she was often treated as an inferior being — But the account of Creation says that, on a par with man, woman is an image of God. Unfortunately, in practice she had a subordinate position despite the esteem she enjoyed through becoming a mother. We cannot forget either, that throughout Holy Scripture God has chosen certain women who were honoured as prophets. But marriage was a business settled by man: the young girl’s father and he to whom she was destined. Finally, adultery was designated as a female misconduct, the man was only guilty if he violated another man’s rights; whereas the wife was obligated to be faithful to her husband. What was punishable as far as a man was concerned was an offence against another man’s rights, not against a woman’s. However, the bill of divorce did give the dismissed wife the right to enter into another marriage. Such was the judicial and social context in which the question of the legitimacy of divorced was posed. Jesus said: “It was because you were so unteachable that he [Moses] wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of Creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body.” Jesus suggests that divorce corresponds to a stage of human development marked by the weakness resulting from sin. In Jesus’ time, divorce was routinely practiced: but especially when followed by a second marriage it was already forbidden, at least in certain milieu. This development is evolving in the right direction, says Jesus. With the coming Messianic times, people must resolutely go back to the primordial purity of marriage and to the Creator’s intention. Therefore, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Such a clear cut affirmation and such a radical condemnation of divorce struck the disciples. ‘In the house’ they cannot help asking Jesus about what he has just said. And Jesus answers them: “The man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.” These words could not be clearer, and they say that we must strictly conform to the initial intention and will of God. At the same time, Jesus gives the exact interpretation of what the Book of Genesis says — ‘Man and woman were created equal by God with rigorously the same duties toward each other’. No longer is it possible to consider only the unfaithful woman as guilty of adultery against her husband — The latter commits the same sin if he dismisses his wife in order to marry another. By the same token, marriage (which seems to be treated with such disrespect today) is given back all its dignity — its sacred character as a divine institution.

God created man and woman in his own image in order to have future generations of life, a multitude of children to lead to glory: “Go forth and multiply” Sin does not cause the Creator to renounce fulfillment of this plan in any way: ‘In these last days, He spoke to us through His Son, whom He made heir of all things.’ Thus Jesus spoke of marriage as God instituted it; ‘from the beginning’ It cannot be reduced to just a contract negotiated between a man and a woman that they can break whenever one or the other wants to. God is implicated in marriage. The love that impels a man and a woman to be united into one being is the reflection of the unchanging love of God for His creatures. God proposes this ideal of marriage to weak human beings. But He places His trust in men and women created in His image and strengthened by the help of His grace:

What God has joined together, let no man put asunder”

 

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