27th Sunday in Ordinary Time


1st reading: Genesis 2.7ab, 15, 18-24

2nd reading: Hebrews 2.9-11

Gospel: Mark 10.2-16

By: Deacon Blaine Barclay

Jesus speaks to us of the one flesh union of man and woman in marriage.

At the time of Jesus there was a great debate among Jewish Torah scholars. The followers of Rabbi Shammai were very strict on the question of divorce and remarriage. The followers of Rabbi Hillel were more lenient in their interpretation of the law on questions of divorce and remarriage. In our gospel today, on one level Jesus seems to be siding with the more strict interpretation of the followers of Rabbi Shammai, but Jesus does so, not by entering detailed arguments about how to interpret the law, by playing one text off in relationship to another, or, by citing past interpretive authorities in defence of his own position. This would have been the normal pattern of debate about how to interpret the law on this or any question.

Instead, Jesus does a very dangerous thing here; he criticizes the basis of the debate at its very root and foundation. He asks his interrogators, “What did Moses command you?” Their answer, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal, and to divorce her.” This was a given, this is Torah, this is the law of Moses on this question. The differences among the Rabbis of Jesus’ time had to do with the level of strictness or leniency with which to apply this legal loophole. Again, Jesus does a very dangerous thing here; he undercuts the authority of the Law of Moses. “But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” He avoids taking sides in the then current debate between rabbinical schools, he does so by calling on an authority both higher and prior to the law of Moses. “But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female”. By doing so, Jesus calls on the moral law inscribed in the very order of creation. The basis of the ‘one flesh union’ of wife and husband, what St. John Paul II called the primordial, original sacrament, the sacrament of marriage, is grounded in the prior union of man and woman in the unity or ‘original solitude’ of human nature. “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. As the other Creation story in Genesis teaches us, both man and woman are the image of God in the world. “Let us make man in our image. Male and female he created them.” Or, as our account from Genesis today tells us, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” To which we could add, ‘It is not good that the woman should be alone’.

Who among us does not know this truth at the core of our being? It is not good to be alone, nobody wants to be lonely. How did the old song go? “One is the loneliest number.” And yet we all experience loneliness, in different ways and to a different measure. It seems to be a universal part of our human experience, the residue or leftover of the ‘original solitude’ of human nature. It is precisely our solitude or loneliness that makes us long for a sense of community, for the intimacy of friendship, to feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves. Even the hermit/monk longs for the other, for communion, for intimacy with God. Even God longs for the intimacy of the other, not because of any lack or need on God’s part, but because the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and their mutual love, from all eternity is the person of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul even speaks of, ‘the whole creation waiting with eager longing for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God’. So loneliness and longing for the other is built right into both the pattern of creation and of human nature. The complementariness of the male and female difference is part of the original gift of human nature as it comes forth from the hand of God. The ‘one flesh union’ of Marriage, both the union of what the Church politely refers to as ‘the conjugal act’, and the union of the two in the one flesh of the children born of the marriage, find their basis and ultimate defence in God’s original plan for human nature. Male and female together image the fullness of God in this world. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, 2335 “Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”121 All human generations proceed from this union.2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins.”

It is important to think carefully, and to believe rightly, about these matters, and to not allow our own hardness of heart to prevent us from listening to what has always been there from the beginning. Let us pray for the success of the Synod on the Family. That our Bishops, together with Pope Francis, will find the right balance in defending both the indissolubility of marriage and the primacy of mercy in the proclamation of the gospel.