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OCTOBER 7, 2012: TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Genesis 2:18-24
Hebrews 2:9-1
Mark 10:2-16

It's evident to serious students of Scripture that politicians who promise to return our country to "biblical family values" have never read the Bible. Biblical morality is moving, not static. It constantly changes. What's permitted in one century can be forbidden in the next - even when it concerns sexuality and marriage.

Almost always, when it comes to the latter, our sacred authors are usually one moral step ahead of the cultures in which they live. This is certainly the case with today's Genesis passage.

Writing in the 10th century, BCE, the Yah wist author is concerned not only that "man" not exist alone, but also that the one who eventually becomes his partner is someone made of the same "stuff from which he's made.” Unlike our narrative, many early creation myths taught that the gods created women out of inferior material, permitting men, who were made of superior stuff, to lord it over them.

We also know from prehistoric cave paintings that some primitive humans experimented with animal partnering. That seems to be why the writer emphatically mentions no animal "proved to be the suitable partner" for the man. If man is destined to have a helpmate, it's going to be another human, not an animal.

Because only the woman is made from man, the sacred author is provided with an opportunity to present an "etiological" reason for human intercourse. (An etiological explanation for a name or an action is rarely historical or scientific. It simply explains something in a way that applies to the everyday life of the reader. E.g. Why's grass green? Because dogs are brown. Why's the sky blue? Because baseballs are white.) In this case, the couple becomes one through intercourse because at one time, before Yahweh took part of the man to form a woman, they were one. Intercourse is a sign of that primal unity.

But even though "the two of them become one flesh," the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures permit that one flesh to be separated through divorce - something which Jesus forbids in our gospel pericope. Of course his disciples are confused. Jesus' morality goes far beyond accepted Jewish morality.

He assures his followers that no-divorce has always been Yahweh's plan, but, because of strong human opposition, God put that plan on a back-burner until Jesus' arrival. Only a rare Jew would have obeyed such a strict law. But like so many other things, Christian marriage is also affected by Jesus' dying and rising.

Perhaps that's why Mark immediately adds the well-known story of Jesus and the children, and especially zeroes in on Jesus' remark, ''Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." In this situation, the childlike quality Jesus seems to praise is an ability to learn and grow. No one can be his follower unless he or she is willing to evolve, to constantly change their value systems.

No wonder the Hebrews author makes the suffering which we both endure the connecting point between Jesus and us. If Jesus' ministry revolves around surfacing God's kingdom - God working effectively in our daily lives - he's got to be concerned with helping us change throughout those lives. Such change entails constant psychological suffering and death.

Only those who are committed to experiencing such changes in their lives will be able to surface God's kingdom in their midst. The "unchangeable" will probably get into heaven one day, but sadly, they'll never experience God's heaven existing around them right here and now.

Family values and morality have constantly evolved, even beyond the 1,200 years in which our biblical writings were composed and collected. Can we today die enough to be open to the changes we've yet to experience?