Marriage According to God’s Plan: 27th Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – 27th Sunday in ordinary Time –
Sermon And Christian Act In The Word
Theme: Equality in Humanity! Complementarity! Marriage According to God’s plan
Point of Reflection: God created man and then a woman, it does not mean that a woman is inferior to man; man and woman are equal. According to God, Man and Woman becomes one fresh once they are married. Today’s readings focus on the relationship within the human family, primarily that of men and women, and their complementarity in society and in family structures.
First Reading: Genesis 2:18–24
Psalm: Psalm 128:1–6
Second Reading: Hebrews 2:9–11
Gospel: Mark 10:2–16 or Mark 10:2–12
Sermon (Reflection): Most often, the text from the book of Genesis in the first reading is used and has been used to sustain and justify claims of woman’s inferior status to that of man. Such interpretations represent a complete misunderstanding and harmful distortions of this biblical story which, in fact, intends to communicate the exact opposite message.
The passage (Cf. Genesis 2:18–24) begins with an assertion, “it is not good for a man to be alone”. Up to this point, everything that God had created “was good” thus complete and perfect. The man’s “not good” aloneness reflects unfinished creation. God decides to complete His creation providing the man with “a helper as his partner”. A helper is needed when someone lacks sufficient strength or capacity to carry out a task.
The man needs the woman because, by himself, he is incomplete and incapable of carrying out God’s given task to care and cultivate the Garden of Eden. No other creature is capable of fulfilling this role as they are fundamentally different; at best they can be man’s servants, but not his partners.
To create the man’s helper and partner God first puts the man into deep sleep. In the Hebrew understanding, sleep provides an occasion for divine revelation. Then, without man’s participation, God forms another human being. The text symbolically portrays this new being as formed from the man’s rib. This action is deeply symbolic. First, it means that both beings share the same humanity, as they are made of the same matter. Next, the woman comes from the man’s side, thus, she is meant to stand beside the man, not underneath or above.
Very significantly, there is an ancient Sumerian story which might have influenced the biblical authors. In that story, a goddess is created. Her name is “the woman of life”. The word for “life” in the ancient Sumerian language is remarkably similar to the Hebrew word for “rib”. Quite possibly the Hebrew writers intended to allude to the woman as “the woman of life” not “the woman of the rib”. This view finds support in Genesis 3:20 where the woman is called “the mother of all the living”.
Woman will thus complete God’s creation, and allow humankind to be life-giving, something that a man alone could not accomplish.
The author then moves to emphasise that the two beings are equal in nature and status. First, the man recognises the woman as “born bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh” – both share the same humanity and, on the very fundamental level of existence, they are identical. This means there is equality in humanity.
Next, the man names the woman using the word which, in Hebrew, means “wife”. In this statement, he himself is not called “a man” but “a husband”. In this act we witness the creation of the first family. God’s design for the creation is now complete with the human family at its pinnacle.
This family bond was initiated by the man, which reflects the way in which marriages were made among the Israelites. But then, startlingly, the author states that the man is to leave his father and mother and join himself to the wife.
This statement goes against the core practice of a patriarchal society, where the woman was taken from her parents’ home and incorporated into the husband’s family. Why such a reversal? Most likely, the author intends to emphasise that the creation of the human family surpasses any social norms and practices which are culturally conditioned.
The marriage partners are joined to live in a complementary union above the social and cultural divide. The author also suggests that the patriarchal system was not God’s intent at creation. It emerged only later as a result of human sin and the fall (Cf. Genesis 3:16).
Patriarchy is an unwanted by-product of humanity’s fall. God created the man and the woman to complement each other and exist in an intimate union of complementarity and equality. Revelation of this divine design and purpose is the true purpose and message of this significant passage from Genesis.
The second Scriptural reading (Cf. Hebrews 2:9–11) of today reminds us that God created humanity to rule and care for his creation. Due to their sin and fall, people were and are unable to fulfil this task, because creation as well as the human family became disrupted and alienated from God. But what humanity could not achieve, God accomplished through Jesus Christ.
By subjecting himself to suffering and death, God’s Son emerged victorious in His resurrection, He also became the glorified Lord with all creation subjected to him. As the Risen Lord he also restored unity in the human family.
Hebrews speaks of the family of God’s children created by God through Jesus. Jesus became “the pioneer of salvation” by sanctifying the people. As sanctified people, former sinners can now enter communion with God. Furthermore, as the author beautifully states, “the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father”.
This means that in this new family Jesus is the brother to believers. Even though believers are human while He is God, “he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”
Just as God created the human family consisting of husbands and wives, Jesus created a new family by establishing communion between the divine and the human. As Christians, the way we live must reflect the brotherhood and sisterhood we have with Jesus.
The Gospel passage of today reflects about the nature of Marriage, that God constituted Marriage. The Pharisees were a Jewish group of pietists who allowed divorce on the grounds of their interpretation of the Mosaic Law. Jesus disproved of their views and forbade divorce in unequivocal terms. The Law did allow divorce in certain cases, but the conditions for initiating the divorce were not clear, vaguely expressed by allowing the husband to write a “certificate of divorce” because of “indecency” (Cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-3). What that indecency meant was a matter of heated dispute. Clearly, this law is designed to protect the husband’s rights over the wife.
Arguing against divorce altogether, Jesus evokes the creation story, citing Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, which unequivocally reveals God’s ideal for marriage. He stated that Moses allowed divorce because of the “your hardness of heart”, that is the limitations of the Israelite patriarchal society with its stubborn insistence on the rights of men over women. Yet, the practice was not willed by God and went against his design. In fact, God hates divorce! (Cf. Malachi 2:16).
Thus, following his standard interpretative approach to look at the intention of the Law, Jesus summarily forbade divorce as contrary to God’s purposes. In his view, divorce denied women their rightful status as equal partners in marriage, thus distorting God’s creation. Some of us reading and listening to this sermon might be thinking of divorce!
Jesus’ subsequent teaching on adultery makes this point explicit. The patriarchal society of his day recognized adultery as the woman’s act, and a violation of her husband’s rights to her. By saying that a man commits adultery against a woman marrying another, Jesus declares that the woman has rights over the man as well.
Even more startlingly, Jesus states that the woman could divorce her husband, which was technically impossible in Jewish society at the time. Both statements allow for what is unacceptable in a traditionally patriarchal society and present Jesus’ revolutionary—for his time—view on men and woman as equal partners in the marriage relationship, with corresponding rights in regard to one another.
The last part of today’s passage brings in the issue of children and their position in society and family. Unlike today, children were viewed as the least important members of the family and the lowest members in society. They had no legitimate rights and relied completely on the mercy of their parents, particularly their fathers.
By making children a model of membership in the kingdom of God, Jesus teaches that the child-like dependence on God is the very foundation of being God’s child and a member of his kingdom. By blessing children, Jesus elevates their status in the Christian community to equal that of adults, which, much like his teaching on divorce and adultery, would have been revolutionary in his day. With husbands, wives and children declared as those of equal dignity, importance, and status, Jesus set up a new concept of family, one that ought to be normative for Christians ever since.
Christian Act in Word of God “Complementarity between Man and Woman”
Complementarity between man and woman has been an issue since earliest times. The liturgy of this Sunday invites us to revisit our attitude towards women, an attitude that should be in line with God’s intentions visible in the story of creation. The creation story from Genesis 2 has itself been manipulated and misinterpreted by many people for many generations, and was used to threaten women’s dignity and to impair their development. It was frequently used to justify submission of the woman to her male counterpart.
Such misinterpretations of the biblical text have continued to lead to the abuse of women. Pope Francis recognised this very well, when speaking to the members of the Academy for Life (Oct 5, 2017), where he plainly said, “the forms of subordination that have sadly marked the history of women, have to be eradicated.”
The book of Genesis clearly reveals the mind of God concerning his creation.
Man and woman were both created in God’s image, and for the purpose of complementing each other.
They are meant to be equal in status, live in mutual respect and harmony with one another, with nature and with the creator. As it was beautifully stated by a Christian theologian, “The woman was not made out of his [the man’s] head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
Though we are all aware of this design of God, we are very often blinded by our patriarchal cultures and structures which have made women second class citizens of planet earth. In many contemporary cultures, women are still treated as inferior and subject to the man, with few rights and limited protection. Despite the advancement in a civilization, society is quick at depriving women of the opportunity to explore some professional fields which are tagged “for men only”.
Our cultures play a great role in our understanding of the role and the person of a woman, for better or for worse. However, as Christians, we must rise above, and renounce, those aspects of our cultures that contradict the teaching of Christ. The second reading invites us to take on the culture of Christ, because we are all his brothers and sisters, and we have one Father.
In the end, today’s message reads that together, men and women “were created, in their blessed difference; together they have sinned, for their presumption to replace God; together, with the grace of Christ, they return to God’s presence, to honour the care of the world and the history that He has entrusted to them” (Pope Francis, Oct 5, 2017).
Our cultural conditioning for centuries has suggested that women are inferior to men. The time has come to embrace our sacred duty as Christians to embrace the teachings of Christ on equality and dignity of both sexes. The acceptance of this equal dignity lays the foundation for a fruitful and happy life for the entire human family.
Action: This week I will look at those of the opposite sex, whether men or women, seeing them as God’s gift to me, as fellow members of my God-made family meant to complement me.
Prayer: Dear Lord, you have blessed the human race with the gift of every person, help us to regard everyone as special in your eyes. Teach us to respect every man and woman that you have created. May you bless those who have married and become one body that they may live in harmony not in divorce. Lord, may you grant us all the heart to work together for your glory. We ask this through Christ your son who is our brother and friend, Amen.