October 7 27th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday)

First Reading (Genesis 2:18-24).

This reading from the Book of Genesis is about the ideal situation before the sin and fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, which will be recounted in the following chapter (chapter 3). It speaks of the human race as God would have it. First God created man (in Hebrew adam), the male, from the dust (in Hebrew adamah) of the earth, intended to emphasize his frailty and return to dust at his death. To show his superiority over beasts and birds, God has Adam name these creatures. But to stress man’s superiority above these, the text lays stress on the fact that none of these is a suitable helpmate for the human dignity of man. The text goes on to show how man’s, the male’s, helpmate is woman, drawn from the man while he is in a divinely induced sleep. This is the point of the entire passage – the union of man and woman in marriage. This is made clear in the concluding words: In marriage man and woman become one. This is the ideal situation, which was in God’s plan before the fall. With sin matters changed. The passage is chosen for today’s liturgy to accompany today’s Gospel reading, in which Christ will recall the original plan of God in his answer to a question about divorce.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 127 [128]). May the Lord bless you all the days of you life.

Second Reading(Hebrews 2:9-11).

With this passage we begin a set of readings from the Epistle to the Hebrews which will continue for the remainder of the Church’s liturgical year, until the 33rd Sunday of the year. The writing was occasioned by the danger of apostasy in an early Christian community, apparently in one with converts from Judaism. These seemed to have been over impressed with the splendour of the Jewish liturgy, finding difficulty in the more otherworldly Christian belief. The author develops in some detail some of the comparisons between the Jewish rites and Christian fulfilment. At the outset, however, he stresses the divinity, and with it, the superiority of Christ. Jesus is the Son whom the Father has appointed the heir of all things. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power (Hebrews 1:2-3). Since such is Christ their Lord, believers can have complete confidence in him. But Christ is not just the powerful creator and redeemer. Those to whom this letter is directed, believers in him, were very sorely tested by doubts and persecutions. The present reading addresses just those. Christ is their model, and their guide to God. It was God’s plan that his own Son, true God, through whom the world was created, should also be truly human and experience the trials and sufferings of mortals. It was the divine purpose that his own Son, the guide and leader of believers, should experience through his own sufferings what obedience to God’s will really means, should be made perfect in this sense. Christ is truly human; he is one with those who believe in him. Christ who sanctifies and believers who are sanctified are of the same stock. Christ openly declares them to be his own brothers and sisters.

This is a tremendous presentation of the divinity and full humanity of Christ, a true source and bedrock of faith and of confidence in doubts in matters of faith, in trials and persecutions.

Gospel (Mark 10:2-16).

The background to today’s gospel reading is a burning issue that divided the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. It concerned the valid ground for a man to divorce his wife, and the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 which says that if a man marries a wife and she find no favour in his eyes because he has found “something indecent” (or: “anything indecent”) in her, he may write her a bill of divorce and put her away. Shortly before Christ’s day, and during it, there was sharp division among the Pharisees as to how interpret “something” (or: “anything”) indecent”. One authority, Shammai, maintained that indecency meant adultery, which would be sole ground for divorce. A rival authority, Hillel, was more lenient, stressing the other word: “anything” meant just anything: for instance bad cooking, or if he found I nicer-looking woman. The Pharisees’ question is regarded as a test. Jesus refers them to Moses’ law, to Moses’ command, on the matter, and on getting a reply passes beyond Moses and the Mosaic lay (central to Judaism) to God’s original plan which for him had no place for divorce. He cites the text of Genesis, which ends with the word: “and they shall become one body”, to which Jesus adds, to strengthen his statement: “What therefore God has joined together, let no one put assunder.” This was Jesus’ answer to the Jewish Pharisees. The continuation makes it clear that what he has said holds true for all his followers. When his disciples ask him about the matter, Jesus gives a clear answer, categorically ruling out divorce and remarriage. His reply was: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her”. Mark’s text goes on to give the same principle for a divorce by a woman, applying the principle to pagan Greek and Roman society. Jewish women did not have the right to divorce.

This teaching of Jesus is found substantially the same in the other Gospels Matthew 19:9; 5:32; Luke 16:18, except that Matthew has an exceptive clause “except for unchastity” (in Greek porneia, a term here of uncertain meaning), a clause which, whatever its original meaning, is irrelevant today, where divorce is by mutual consent. The Lord’s prohibition on divorce and remarriage is also in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, to which we shall return below

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day Teaching of an understanding Redeemer on Divorce.

With regard to some of the sayings of Christ in the Gospels, or to teaching ascribed to Christ, some scholars question whether the saying or doctrine in question are from Christ himself or from his followers in the early Church. There is no such question with regard to Christ’s teaching on divorce. This presented such difficulty for the early Church and later history as to render it unlikely that anyone would have attributed it to Christ unless he had really said it. St Paul, writing about 57 A.D., presents clear evidence that the ruling is from Christ himself. Writing to questions raised by the Corinthians with regard to marriage and celibacy (abstention from marriage), he clearly distinguishes between his own advice and the Lord’s teaching. When it comes to marriage and divorce he is clear: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) – and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Paul clearly knew of the Lord’s teaching on the matter, as recorded in the Gospels

One may legitimately ask how one can reconcile this teaching of Christ on divorce with the criticism of the Pharisees for binding heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on people’s shoulders (Matthew 23:4), or with Christ’s words that his yoke is sweet and his burden light, and with Christ’s invitation to all who labour and are burdened to come to him (Matthew 11:28-30). The contrast between his teaching on divorce the other points raised calls for reflection. Christ’s clear teaching on divorce and remarriage do not come from a cold perfectionism or lack of understanding on his part. The person of Jesus as made known through the Gospels is that spoken of in today’s reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was the Father’s will that his Son Jesus experience all the trials of humanity. Jesus befriended the marginalized and rejected. He sympathized with human brokenness. But with all this he came with the message that God was recalling humanity to its original state. Human weakness and brokenness did not take from God’s vision of the human race. That state was and is represented by marriage as intended by God. What is said about divorce and God’s original plan holds for much of the New Testament vision

The church has to be faithful to Christ’s message on the matter, as the apostle Paul was. She must also show the kindness of Christ for the many caught up in the problems that can arise within marriage, and from the break up of marriage. Today’s liturgy is a call for followers of Christ to be faithful to their calling to be faithful to Christ’s teaching and his loving concern for all the many problems of broken humanity.

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