In suffering, struggle, Jesus was perfected

  • September 25, 2009
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 4 (Genesis 2:7, 8, 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16)

There are two different versions of creation in Genesis. This description of creation — the second — is expressed in a far more human and homey manner than the first. God appears more as an artisan in His workshop than the cosmic force in the first chapter who creates with the power of His word.

The purpose of this teaching story is to identify God as the creative force behind creation and to explain such things as the life cycle, marriage unions and human mastery over the animal world. It is not intended — and should not be interpreted — as a literal and scientific description of creation. The creation of life and the evolution of human beings are far more complex — as well as marvellous and awe-inspiring — than a literal and naïve reading of the text can provide.

The name that we usually associate with the original man in the story, Adam, is not a personal name at all. It means “earth-man” and shows the terrestrial origin of humans — the first stage of the human journey. In the New Testament, especially 1 Cor 15, there will be a transition from earthly people to heavenly people by participation in the glory of Christ. Rather than a justification for male superiority and domination, the creation of woman out of the side of man is an expression of complementarity, equality and male/female interdependence. When the two become one flesh in a marriage union — and this union is far more than physical — there is a return to our primordial origin in God before separation and division.

The earthly sojourn of Jesus is one of experiencing humanity first hand. He was made as we are — lower than the angels — but with a purpose. He had to suffer and struggle, just as we do, and that is how He was perfected. He was the trailblazer, the pioneer, the first one to return home with the full intention that He was to be the first of many. This stage in our journey to God overturns the tyranny of death and allows us to share in the glory and honour of Jesus. There is one verse that we should meditate on daily: the one who sanctifies (Jesus) and those who are sanctified (us) are all from one. Because of this Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. This means sharing the reality of who Jesus is as well as His ministry of compassion and divine presence. Too often our spirituality and theology overemphasizes the distance and radical difference between ourselves and Jesus and we overlook the simple fact that we are invited to stand before and with Jesus in the straightforward and relaxed manner of a brother or sister.

Difficult questions and hard answers: is divorce allowed or not? In the time of Jesus there were two main schools of thought among the rabbis. The liberal tradition allowed divorce for almost any reasons, while the stricter tradition would not allow it at all. Jesus appears to side with the latter. He alludes to the creation account and the need for the male and female to become one flesh and insists that the unity of the two should not be broken. There are a couple of points to remember: the question was about a man dismissing his wife — there is no hint of a wife divorcing her husband, and a repudiated woman was often without the means of support. Jesus is insisting on equality and the rights of the woman. But even beyond that marriage is more than a business arrangement — it is a divine covenant and a sharing in the creative power of God.

Unfortunately, failed marriages are an unhappy fact of life and we cannot judge those who have had to face this human tragedy. But the complexities of human psychology are not dealt with in this passage nor would they have been comprehensible to ancient people. In the ancient world a rather static and superficial understanding of the human personality prevailed. This is certainly held as our ideal, but both our deeper understanding of the human person and the example of the compassion and mercy of Christ demand that we do all that we can to ease the burdens and restore the lives of those suffering the effects of broken relationships.