|27TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B|
ORDINARY TIME, 27TH WEEK
We are working our way, during the present five weekends, through various themes linked with ‘being a child’. They show us how to follow Jesus, especially as Mark presents him. This time I want to look at the complementarity there is between us and others: the child in us knows how to enjoy that.
God created the universe to ‘correspond’ with God. I don’t mean to write letters to God. I mean to ‘fit in’ with God’s way of doing things in creating. I mean to be ‘like’ God, just a bit anyway. I mean to be ‘with’ God as God keeps on being the Creator, and to have God be ‘with’ it as it does the God thing in a way that is as close to God’s way as it can. There are ‘correspondences’ and ‘parallels’ with God everywhere, if we were alert to them…. The whole universe is a mystery of such ‘correspondences’. A rock, a flower, an animal, a human, an angel all exist with an existence that flows into them from God, their common source: their whole being corresponds with God’s Being. Each one does that in its own way. In their differences, in their oppositions and even competitions, all these commune in the original joy of coming from God. They ‘correspond’ to God’s gift to them all. That’s how they become a ‘universe’ with a single meaning together.
The most astonishing ‘correspondence’ in the universe is between man and woman. Two free human beings, very different, born separately, choose each other a thousand times over, choose not to be one without the other, choose to live in a prodigious mutual correspondence… That is God’s doing. God created it while the man was asleep (as Genesis says). It is unique in creation. It is both a special gift of God and a free human choice of two persons. The woman offered by God is recognized by the man. The Hebrew of Genesis calls her ‘kenegdo’. The word means someone like the man and unlike the man: she is like him, so understands him, and she is unlike him and so is what he can never be, so that the two together belong as a whole. Men are to be different from the males of the animal world, who mate and move on to the next partner. As a Rabbinic commentator says, ‘a man wishes his wife to be with him always’. She is a help-mate who ‘corresponds’ with and to him, she is the adequate response to his solitude and to his present state of development and she creates a future for both of them that could not be without her in that role.. In her consent to this mission confided to her by God, she brings humanity to the point where for the first time it can be called human. In this life of such a couple God has chosen to reveal something about God, indeed the deepest secrets of God’s own life and of all life.
In this, both the man and the woman know what it is, not to have children, but to be a ‘child’. They give up trying to be adequate on their own. It is one step more than ‘transparent inadequacy’, one step beyond ‘beyond paranoia’. . That is patently present between them. The extra step is that they recognize it not in themselves separately but in the other. In the other who is the response to that manifest inadequacy….
That puts it perhaps more from the point of view of the man, but it is true from the woman’s point of view also. Genesis seems to say that while the man was created alone first, and then knew loneliness, the woman was never created alone but from the first moment of her existence had to exist in complementarity with the man or not exist at all. Her need of belonging is perhaps even deeper. And perhaps, too, the reality of complementarity.
This is the reason why a rupture, a repudiation, a revocation of the mutuality between man and woman in marriage, is not acceptable in the bible. It is a breach of a fundamental accord. It is a breaking of a primordial covenant. It is like losing the secret of a union given by God. The Torah does speak of ‘allowing’ divorce, but it does so in terms of God ‘permitting’ but not ‘wanting’ it, indeed with a sadness inside God, and all this because of the hardness of heart of two people whose hearts should have become more tender through the gift of their togetherness.
That is why the tradition – while placing little or no blame on persons who have not been able to continue to live this ideal - has not hesitated to call the situation of separateness objectively a ‘sin’. Sin separates, grace unifies. That is why the tradition has not hesitated to call marriage something more than a grace, it calls it a sacrament, because it demonstrably shows what God is really like. Indeed it is a revelation about God. It says that God has actually espoused all humanity, without possibility of repudiation. A real and perduring marriage is the sign of that secret. Only in its light can anyone understand Incarnation and Transfiguration. Or humanity itself.
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest that this intimate co-belonging (not co-dependency!) sits well with the idea of being a child. It confesses inadequacy alone, is not afraid of closeness to the true other, and discovers life in that bond.
St.Paul advocated this, but I think he took it further than the usual Jewish theology in this field. He saw the mutuality of marriage as a participation and a communion of each partner in what I would call the ‘resurrectional fragility’ of the other. The man, and the woman, are both afraid of dying, and only the assurance of the other makes it possible for them to see it not as dying but as beginning-rising. Paul saw the ‘other’ not just as ‘other’ but as ‘one’ in the one Risen Jesus.
It is somewhat perplexing to realize that this Pauline attitude to the body, to sex, to the flesh, to the opposite sex, did not continue as strongly at large in subsequent Christianity. Paul’s views could be seen as quite revolutionary in terms of commonly understand Christian principles now. They imply a level of freedom and a level of mutual understanding not usually preached now. Historians are now suggesting that from the second to the fifth centuries, the Church progressively took over from Roman and pagan culture an attitude to the body, to family, to marriage, to virginity, and to sexual continence, that was rather different in motivation and practice from the Pauline one. Perhaps early Christians, unlike Paul and his people, were not free enough in themselves to enjoy life as Paul taught them. Perhaps this is why there was a trend among them towards an asceticism that was more redolent of eastern religions, and that brought with it what eventually became in many Christians almost a hatred of flesh, an abhorrence of sex, and even a repugnance towards the opposite sex. Moral theologians with a sense of history could well clarify much here.
I think, too, that Paul’s insight into the mutual sharing of fragility in the face of death and resurrection, has been somewhat lost, even in the better lines of later Christian theology. It stresses what individuals can do for themselves, perhaps with a little help from themselves. They are presumed too often to be adequate adults. They are not understood through what is fragile in each of them. Maybe there is too much Narcissism in us to admit our unfinishedness, as a child would, and to look positively towards resurrection with the help of a help-mate.
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