This is a detail of a painting of Adam and Eve by Peter Wenzel that is displayed in the Pinacoteca at the Vatican Museums. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Like the innocent child, we must be open to the kingdom of the Lord

  • September 24, 2015

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 4 (Genesis 2:7ab, 15, 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16)

Adam means of the earth, and that is part of what we are. In this symbolic teaching story — Adam and Eve were not historical individuals — Adam was created from the ground itself. God breathed the spirit into Adam and he became a living being. A long parade of living creatures followed, and Adam named them all, implying power over them. But living beings were created for companionship and relationship, and the lack of that was soon evident. Eve was created from Adam, but that does not imply dependence or inferiority.

Both Adam and Eve in this story are children of the earth, given life by God. They share a common origin and destiny, and their lives were intended for spiritual and physical unity. In the omitted verses, all of this took place within the Garden of Eden, the paradise that also manifested human weakness. Despite carrying the spirit of God within them, the two proto-humans were pulled in another direction by their earthly origins. The tragic events portrayed in the story were a foretaste of human history and a caution.

Humans were exhorted to go beyond their earthly limitations and to live according to the divine spirit that was within them. This was best accomplished in loving, self-giving relationships in which there was a union of minds and hearts. But there was also a dose of realism: people were also weak, and would be in constant need of mercy, forgiveness and compassion. We must never confuse the ideal or goal with reality, and reality is what we must deal with every day. Reality is shot through with human weakness and sin, and the response to that is encouragement, mercy and compassionate assistance.

The Letter to the Hebrews is somewhat dense and convoluted at times, but it contains many profound and challenging statements. Not all of them are fully appreciated or applied. We are familiar with the self-sacrifice of Jesus — His humiliation, suffering and death — as well as His exaltation. But there is something that we often miss: Jesus was perfected through obedience to the Father and through suffering. All of this was to blaze a path for the rest of us to follow. He intended to share His exaltation with all who follow. Not only that, He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. His relationship with us is fraternal in nature rather than one of domination or superiority. Being called brother or sister by Jesus and calling Him brother in return changes a lot. There should not be fear, only the awareness of a constant accompaniment that is loving and supportive.

The teaching on divorce is a hard saying and has been the source of pain for many throughout the centuries. Its intent was certainly not to consign people to loveless and abusive relationships or to make them miserable. When Jesus spoke, He defined the nature of marriage over and against prevailing cultural norms of the time. In the ancient world (and unfortunately not unknown in our world), marriage was often little more than a business transaction. Political or financial gain was a powerful motive for marriage among the elite. For others, marriage was often terminated — usually by the male — for frivolous or self-serving reasons. In sum, marriage was seen by many as an arrangement of convenience or self-interest.

Not so, insisted Jesus — it is far more than that! Rather than personal gain or convenience, commitment and spiritual union is at the heart of marriage. The union is a partnership; neither is subservient to or the property of the other. Jesus was not addressing cases of human brokenness and tragedy. Psychological immaturity, addictions, human weakness and sin and violence can destroy relationships. In those instances, the spiritual union that is such a vital part of marriage does not exist. Above all, following the numerous examples of Jesus, mercy and the healing of the human soul are the supreme law.

The little children that came to Jesus were viewed with special favour — it was to those such as these children that the kingdom of God belongs. We have to receive the kingdom as they do — open, eager, guileless and vulnerable — in order to counteract our fear and cynicism. Come to think of it, that is not a bad approach to human relationships too.

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