All are equal in the eye of the Lord

  • September 26, 2012

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 7 (Genesis 2:7, 15, 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16)

People have always asked “why,” “where” and “how” questions. Little children are great at asking these sorts of questions as any parent knows all too well. The ancient Hebrews asked the usual things: where do people come from, why are men and women different, and why do people unite in marriage and raise children? They borrowed freely from the creation and origin myths of the neighbours but always gave them a very different slant — one that emphasized creation as an act of love on the part of a unique transcendent God.

The description of the creation of the first humans does not fall in the realm of science and it should not be taken literally. It answers the “why” sort of question — it gives meaning to life and points to God as our origin. God is the author and giver of the life and breath that animates us. Naming things in the biblical world implies exercising power over them, but it also shows that humans play an important role in the story of the Earth. It also implies responsibility — exercising dominion does not mean exploitation, waste and wanton cruelty.

Bad exegesis makes for bad theology, and there has been more than a bit of dubious theology based on the creation of woman from Adam’s rib. Much of it was influenced by the ancient world’s view of woman as an incomplete or defective version of man and that view has played a part in the subjugation of women over the centuries. Looking at the passage from a very different angle we can arrive at a life-enhancing interpretation. Both the man and the woman are depicted as having a common origin and essence. Unity and harmony rather than subordination and dominance express our true nature. Ideologies and theologies that result in exclusion or domination usually do not stand up under careful, honest and informed analysis of traditions.

Hebrews is a rather difficult theological treatise that carries Paul’s name but was most likely not written by him. It is filled not only with beautiful imagery but challenging statements about Jesus and about us. Jesus voluntarily assumed the limitations of humanity on our behalf and was exalted because of His suffering and death. The author insists that God made Jesus perfect through these sufferings. This should be taken seriously and be understood as the development of the humanity of Jesus. Even more intriguing is the statement that both Jesus and those who follow Him spring from the same source and that Jesus was the “pioneer” — the trailblazer — preparing the way for many to follow. He did not come to be worshipped but to be joined by those He is not at all ashamed to call brothers and sisters. Our relationship with Jesus is one of friendship and solidarity.

The passage on divorce is one of those very hard sayings in the New Testament. Most people are in some manner acquainted with the pain of those who suffer from broken marriages. It was not intended to bind people to abusive partners or toxic relationships but to create conditions for a happy and fruitful life together. Perhaps it is fruitful to approach the reading from a different angle as with the reading from Genesis. Instead of asking what it prohibits we can ask what it affirms. The answer is simple: all people are equal in worth and dignity. No one may be used, viewed as property or treated in a calloused manner. This may sound obvious but to many long ago (and far too many today) it was new and unwelcome news.

Note that the initial question posed to Jesus revolved around the permissibility of a man divorcing his wife — not the other way around. Women were often treated as chattel and once dismissed from a marriage a woman’s place in society and ability to survive were precarious. Jesus was clear that marriage is a relationship between equals and highlighted its spiritual and unitive nature rather than contractual or utilitarian aspects. We can hope and strive to obtain this ideal. At the same time, human weakness and a host of other influences often stand in the way. In these instances, compassion and the insistence of Jesus, illustrated in His welcome of the children that no one be hindered from approaching Him, should be the guiding principles.