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God's Word on Sunday: Looking for the life message in Genesis

  • September 26, 2021

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 3 (Year B) Genesis 2:7ab, 15, 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

When the ancients wanted to teach about life, they told stories. These stories were well-seasoned with symbols and layers of meaning. And they were not at all bothered by inconsistencies, repetitions and apparent contradictions.

Modern people create many difficulties by taking these stories literally or viewing them as scientific descriptions of the origins of the world and the human race. It is far more fruitful to go below the surface and ask ourselves what life message the story contains.

Genesis contains two accounts of creation with significant differences between them. In the first account, human beings are created last, after all other creatures. Male and female are created simultaneously, in the image and likeness of God, without a hint of imbalance or inequality. At each stage of the creation process, God declares everything “good” — evil and negativity are not present. The second account, related in Chapter 2, is more “earthy.” The male is created from the dust of the earth and before all the other creatures. God breathed the spirit of life into the male, making him a living being.

For later interpreters, this symbolized the earthly and heavenly natures of the human person — we are of the earth and of God, something of great importance that we often forget. Only later is the female created by being fashioned from the rib of the male. The fact that the male was created first does not imply superiority or dominance, although some later writers interpreted it in this way. The point that is stressed is their essential unity and common origin. The fact that the man “names” the creatures (in what language?) implies dominion over them but also responsibility.

The end of the story reveals its purpose: It explains the difference between male and female and yet their attraction for one another. In an ideal loving union, the two become one in mind and heart, mirroring their common primal origin and fulfilling their divine purpose.

The two stories reveal our common humanity as well as our place and purpose in the cosmos. But they should not be seen as biological or anthropological texts.

Humanity’s common nature and essential unity is highlighted in the mission of Jesus related by Hebrews. In order to restore the fullness of our relationship with God, Jesus became one of us — He shared our humanity in all things but sin. Jesus was perfected through suffering. He met all the challenges of being human but never forgot who and what He was. He was the pioneer — the one who goes first and blazes the path — in expectation that many more would follow.

Jesus views us as brothers and sisters rather than subjects; He shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity. Thinking and acting on this belief will certainly bring new life and progress to our spiritual journey.

Jesus addressed a question about divorce, which was a difficult and contentious issue then as it is now. Rabbis had differing views; some were hardliners, others flexible even to a fault. But here Jesus suggested that perhaps they were asking the wrong question.

What was the purpose of marriage? Jesus quoted the passage from Genesis describing the sacred union. It was not a business arrangement but a sacred bond between equals. No one should be cast aside merely for convenience or changes in affections.

When the objection was raised that Moses permitted divorce, Jesus labelled it a concession due to human weakness or inability. He went on to insist that this was not the original intention and the “two becoming one” was the ideal to which all should strive.

Jesus was not trying to lay a painful or impossible burden on people but to recall them to their original purpose. This teaching must never be used as justification for an abusive or toxic relationship. As an ideal, it sanctifies marriage and pulls us in a certain forward direction. However, for countless reasons, many will stumble along the way.

As with all biblical teachings, it is interwoven with compassion and mercy, for God constantly calls us to new life and new beginnings. As a finishing touch, Jesus urged people to receive the kingdom of God as a child — that is, eagerly, with an open heart, and without doubt and cynicism. As it was in the beginning, so let it be now.