LITURGY IN FOCUS

PREPARING FOR NEXT WEEK

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection: Made for each other

By SISTER MARY McGLONE

What we learn from Charles Darwin and the anthropologists who seem pretty certain that human beings first emerged in Africa, Greece or Bulgaria, does not nullify what Genesis teaches us about the meaning of creation and human life.

Our ancestors who told about Adam and Eve had no interest in scientific evolution. They passed on those stories to share their understanding that God created in order to share life in all its abundance.

When asked about divorce, Jesus cited the Genesis creation stories to explain that, just as in the marriage relationship, human beings were created for one another. Jesus talked about Eve and Adam in reply to the Pharisees whom he described as suffering from hardness of heart. They prodded him to make a pronouncement about how a man could legally get rid of a wife he had ceased to find sufficiently attractive or useful.

The teachers of the day held opinions that ran the gamut; some allowed a man to divorce his wife only in the case of infidelity, while others gave him the go-ahead if she cooked poorly or ceased to please him.

Like everyone else who challenged Jesus, those poor guys did not know what they were getting themselves into. They didn’t consider the implications of bringing this question to a teacher whose father had considered divorce when his mother was pregnant with him. In reply, Jesus took their shared family history back to the very beginnings- to God’s original plan in the creation of humanity. He quoted both stories of Genesis describing human origins, highlighting the central point of each of them.

When he said, “God made them male and female,” everyone was able to finish the sentence, “in the divine image.” Then he recited from Genesis 2 show a man leaves father and mother to cling to his wife. That point recalled the whole story in which God declared that humans were not made to be alone; they belong to one another.

Jesus’ teaching went far beyond the Pharisees question. Jesus’ statement that a divorced and remarried man was committing adultery against his spurned wife sounded absurd to people in a society in which the woman was effectively little more than property handed from father to husband. These ideas that Jesus proposed about fidelity and equality were so far beyond their imaginations.

In case the Gospel reader did not understand what Jesus was getting at, immediately after the discussion of divorce, Mark records the incident when the disciples incite Jesus’ ire by trying to keep little children from coming to him. Those disciples, hyper-aware that anything that seemed to lessen Jesus’ dignity reflected on them, must have been doubly mortified by Jesus’ reaction.

Jesus deflated their petty pretensions by holding, blessing and praising the needy children and then claiming that they were the example to follow. Mark presents Jesus as the master teacher of the true meaning of the law. When his examiners brought up the question of divorce, Jesus turned it into a discussion of the dignity of each person and the fact that human beings are made for loving one another as truly as we are made to love God. Today, the same situation continues — the Gospel insists that no one, not a displeasing spouse, not a helpless child, not an immigrant, not even a criminal, is dispensable.

A closer look at the gospel

Today’s Gospel is not as simple as it appears. On the surface, when the Pharisees test Jesus about divorce, he responds with a radical teaching. Immediately afterward, Jesus angrily reprimands the disciples who get in the way of his holding and blessing little children.

Underneath both incidents, we can discern Jesus’ teaching about what it means to be human and how one can participate in the kingdom of God. The Pharisees who approached Jesus with their question were playing in the ongoing antagonism between Jesus and religious leaders.

In those days, the legitimacy of divorce was not an issue; debate on the question centered on the motives for which a man could be rid of his wife. When Jesus asked about Moses’ “command,” he knew full well that there was no commandment against divorce. The careful Pharisees replied that Moses “permitted” divorce. That gave Jesus the opportunity to revisit the purpose of the law as a guide, not the recipe for fulfilling the God-given vocation to be human. So, in a sentence, Jesus said that Moses conceded the possibility of divorce because of “the hardness of your hearts.” Like a Band-Aid on an infected scratch, it wasn’t a solution, but it stopped worse things from happening.

Jesus gave them that background to recall what God’s design had been from the beginning. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about legality, he pointed to the law, their favored resource for adjudicating behavior. He then expressed his own opinion grounded in what God revealed in the process of creation. Jesus referred to the two divergent stories of creation.

First, he said that God had created “male and female,” a reminder from Genesis which states that God created humanity in the divine image. Jesus’ clear implication, something that Genesis 2 spells out more clearly, is that human beings are social. No one is complete in herself or himself alone. We are called forth through relationships with one another. Those relationships continue to form us in the divine image. Jesus then referred to the creation account of Genesis 2, saying that as the man and woman were made for each other, the partnership of marriage takes precedence over every other human relationship, including those of blood and family of origin.

Jesus had already called his disciples to make their relationship to him and their community the primary relationship of their lives, so he never called spouses to leave one another. 1 Corinthians 9:5 indicates that the wives of Peter and other disciples participated in their mission travels. In his interchange with the Pharisees, Jesus went far beyond the question of divorce to teach about the meaning of human relationships in general. He was telling the Pharisees that their question, and other question about righteousness or justice, could not be answered by the law alone.

The law they cited (Deut. 24:1-4) referred to the fact that a man could not make a new claim on a wife he had divorced after she married another. Jesus consistently looked beyond the arena of legality. He called people to discern God’s will as that which promotes life-giving relationships in each and every situation. He applied his criteria to the marriage question saying that it was not humanity’s prerogative to override God’s intention in creation.

When he spoke privately with his disciples about the topic, he reinterpreted the legal explanations of the day by treating men and women as equals before the law: A remarried man commits adultery against his wife as much as she against him if she remarried. Underneath Jesus’ reflection on marriage lies the question of all human relations — a clue why Mark followed the divorce question with the incident of Jesus and the children. Like the Pharisees who debated what could be done with troublesome women, the disciples didn’t want children bothering the master. (Of course, the disciples’ own prestige was at stake when Jesus hung out with “unimportant” or “disreputable” people.) When Jesus saw them disparaging the children, he reproached them angrily, not just for demeaning the children, but also for missing the entire point of his teaching about the kingdom of God.

Like the Pharisees who debated the right to divorce, the disciples’ treatment of the children demonstrated their willingness to make distinctions between important people like themselves and those who could be dismissed — Jesus would have none of it. Human beings were made in the image of God and an offense against one of the least is equal to an offense against whoever is considered greatest.

Jesus’ reception of the children reminds us that as adults, one of the hardest lessons we have to learn is how to receive love, the love of God or divine love expressed through human beings. We would like to earn it, to deserve it, to be self-sufficient, publicly admired awardees of divine consideration, but that is not the way the kingdom of God works.

But the kingdom of God belongs to those who can receive it as undeservedly and as happily as children who simply accept the tender nurture that helps them grow into all they can be. Genesis tells us that human beings were created to be recipients and images of God’s ongoing, free loving. Jesus lived to show us how to give that love and, in his dying, he learned the extreme of how to receive it in unconditional dependence on God.

Reading I

(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.

Responsorial

(Psalm 128: 1-6)

R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.

Blessed are you who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.

Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.

May you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.

Reading II

(Hebrews 2: 9-11)

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.”

Gospel

(Mark 10: 2-16 or 10: 2-12)

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.

OR

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.”