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OCTOBER 4, 2009: TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-16

I frequently employ the first 11 verses of today’s gospel passage to demonstrate the difference between the historical Jesus and the risen Jesus. Mark’s Jesus clearly states, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Yet in Matthew’s gospel, his Jesus - in 19:9 - teaches, “Whoever divorces his wife. . . and marries another commits adultery.” Period! He says nothing about a woman divorcing her husband. Why doesn’t Jesus say the same thing in both gospels? What did the historical Jesus actually say?

We can only appreciate the difference between the two texts by appreciating the difference between the two communities for whom the gospels were written.

Matthew’s writing for a Jewish/Christian church. In such communities a woman never has the right to divorce her husband. Such a procedure is solely a male prerogative. Only he can divorce.

Mark, on the other hand, writes for a Gentile/Christian church: a community in which either the husband or the wife can initiate a divorce.

Scholars unanimously contend that the historical Jesus - who normally addressed Jewish audiences - said what we find in Matthew. Mark, dealing with circumstances the historical Jesus never faced - a Gentile audience - quotes the risen Jesus: the Jesus present in the community for whom he writes.

When we deal with any Scripture, the audience is all-important. Our sacred authors never write in a vacuum. They compose their works for a specific group of people at a specific place and time in history.

This is especially true for our Genesis passage. Written in the 10th century BCE - probably by a woman - this particular myth of creation is geared for an audience not too concerned for women’s rights. One of the arguments used to defend their position that women were an inferior lot revolved around a primitive belief that men and women were actually composed of different “stuff;” just as animals are made of different stuff than humans. If living beings aren’t created equally then they don’t have to be treated equally.

Our Yahwistic author blows that prejudiced opinion out of the water; first by demonstrating the relational differences between humans and animals - “none proved to be a suitable partner” - then by having Yahweh create the women from “man stuff” - “this one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

This basic “oneness” is the reason man and woman become “one flesh” in intercourse. Their act of intimacy takes them back to what they originally were before Yahweh expanded the man’s rib into a woman. For Jesus, it’s also the reason why, after becoming one, they can never be separated.

One of the essentials for surfacing God’s kingdom among us is to surface the oneness God embedded in creation. It’s far easier to stress differences. We need only look at how Jesus’ disciples deal with children. Because they’re not on an equal plain with adults, they don’t have to be treated with the same dignity as adults.

That’s why our Hebrews pericope is so important. The author not only presumes a unity among all people, he goes one step beyond and reflects on the unity between us and the risen Jesus. “He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them brothers (and sisters!)

Are there any in our liturgical assembly today (besides we presiders) who need to hear this message?