Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time
Scripture Readings: Gen. 2:18-24; Heb. 2:9-ll; Mark 10: 2-16.
In the reading from Genesis this morning, the Lord God goes through some trouble to find a “suitable partner” for Adam. He might have saved some time if He had gone on-line to one of the dating sites. “Match”, “eharmony”, “Ourtime” and “Elite” are just a few of the options which even offer the possibility of “long-time commitments.” Usually, we only ask that a “suitable partner” meet some basic requirements, provide some compatibility and similarities, and be free from any potential friction or aversion. Many cultures still have arranged marriages between suitable children. All we ask from “suitable” employment are decent working conditions and a regular paycheck. Suitable is what is good enough. But if everything is too suitable and too comfortable, we may find ourselves getting bored from just looking in a mirror.
However, when we encounter someone or something that strikes or touches our heart, “suitability” moves to a different level. Something dormant or latent within us suddenly comes awake, something we hardly realized was within us until we met with this more-than-suitable other. This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. I have always been a little envious of those young people who know from an early age what they want to be: a pianist, an athlete, a dancer. And then they devote their energies to the discipline and practice they need to develop this goal. They consecrate their lives to what is primary for them and let it dominate and dispose the whole of their lives. It is always a question of how much can I do? and never one of how little can I get away with doing? What is suitable looks very different when you are operating from an integrated and passionate heart and when you are concerned with possible damage control to your sense of comfort.
When the Pharisees ask is it lawful to divorce?, they are speaking out of a concern to act within the limits of what is admissible and acceptable, out of a concern with what is conventional and convenient. Is it legitimate? But Jesus doesn’t answer the question on this level. He moves the discussion to the level of the Covenant and the community. What did Moses command you? What was suitable was a legislation to limit the violation of the obligations assumed in marriage. But this was itself a thwarting of the primary meaning instilled by God in the heart of the union of man and wife. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. The beginning is not a chronologically distant point. It is the creative origin of God’s presence, the heart of reality, which accompanies and sustains the communion that makes a man and his wife one flesh. This is the covenant and communion which reframe the whole question of what is lawful and suitable.
When Jesus brings this question to the level of covenant and community, he brings it to the level of conscience. Conscience is knowing together. It is knowing together with the community, with God who is the creator and source of being, with the whole of ourselves, with the whole of our heart. Laws are meant to protect what is sacred, what is vulnerable, what can be violated. Laws express what is legitimate, not what is intimate and deeply personal. The heart, not legislation, is the voice of what is suitable in bringing together persons willing to become one flesh. Because of the hardness of your heart Moses wrote you this commandment. Hard hearts have become insensitive, unfeeling, unbelieving. These are hearts which thrive on separating, analyzing, and dividing. These hearts do not need to open themselves to conscience, to entering into a living connection with other humans, with God, or with creation. They function best when they sever themselves from responsibility or concern for the cares of others. Is it lawful? Is it legitimate? This thinking is the life-blood of what Pope Francis has called the scientific/technocratic paradigm of our age. It is the life-blood of a society which is more and more unconnected from its beginnings and unconnected from any purpose lying beyond the satisfaction of its own increasingly unsuitable desires. Unknowingly, it has created a culture of loneliness and separation. It has discovered the truth of the words It is not good for man to be alone without having any idea of how to recognize or name this malady, much less how to cure it.
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. The disciples were still in the separating and dividing mode that these children had not (yet) entered. The children were immersed in the full reality of the present, totally committed to its gift, believing that anything is possible and that all realms of being are interactive in the here and now. They are icons of trust and acceptance, touching and wanting to be touched. They are totally sensitive to the environment in which they breathe and unconcerned about what is allowed or legitimate. Jesus moved toward them and touched them. He “connected” with them and became one flesh with them. The children have much to teach the disciples and all those who slowly come to the conclusion that it is not good for man to be alone.