Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction on these reflections before carrying on:
As I am sure I have said before, there has been too much stress in the past on the downward movement of the incarnation, God becoming man for us. Today we are equally aware of the upward movement, the man Jesus who on the cross was revealed as the Son of God. It is this unique bonding of God and humanity in Jesus which we humans are called to share. It is that bonding which underpins the very human readings we hear this Sunday. Everyone is called to be brought to glory in him because he was made perfect , fulfilled his destiny, through suffering. Therefore he is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters so that one day we too with our humanity will also share his perfection, his glory.
With that high view of our humanity and our destiny, we can consider the reading this Sunday from the book of Genesis. The opening chapter of this book begins with a celebration of God’s creation. Here, it is now generally agreed that the opening sentence of the Bible begins: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… then God said….” This is more than just a description of God’s activity in making and populating the world. It’s a setting of the scene.
Several chapters follow which explore what it means to be human. These chapters are not history but basic explanations about the meaning of our humanity. The so-called second creation narrative begins with the creation of man and this comes to a climax with the creation of woman as we hear this Sunday. There follows the story of the expulsion from the garden and other tales about human rebellion up to the Tower of Babel. These chapters all set the scene of our need for salvation before the story proper opens with the appearance of Abraham.
This Sunday therefore we begin with Adam, best translated perhaps as “human”, placed by God in the garden of Eden. God realising that it is not good for Adam to be alone, creates animals and allows Adam to name them. Naming means giving humans some control over all creatures. Yet animals are not good enough. The final step is therfore the creation of woman but here a word play in Hebrew which is reflected to some extent in English by man-woman. This indicates humans, man and woman, are to seen as complimentary. God instead of creating a second, female human, instead chooses make the second human from the first. Male dominance would not have been the intention of the writer. Rather it is that profound sense that humans as men and women belong together, “flesh of my flesh, bones of my bones”.
This comes to climax and is symbolized above all by the two coming together in marriage when Genesis tells us “the two become one body”. It is typical of the lectionary that the last line is left out but it is an important conclusion: the man and woman were naked and not ashamed. That is their first ideal state before God, their first innocence. Then the snake gets involved.
We hear this reading from Genesis as the obvious accompaniment to the Gospel, bearing in mind that the continuity lies with the Gospel. This Sunday’s passage with its two parts follows on from last Sunday’s Gospel. Again, it is typical of the lectionary to omit the introduction about Jesus continuing his journey and teaching the crowd. This introduction begins a new stage in the story about which we hear this Sunday and next.The introduction of the Pharisees is abrupt but their appearance alerts us. We know they are
no friends of Jesus and indeed we are told their purpose is to test him. The issue is one which is with us always, how to act when marriages fail. Of that more shortly. The immediate point is that Jesus has to give them a firm answer. The Pharisees quote the book of Deuteronomy, Jesus caps that by giving priority to the book of Genesis which comes before Moses. “What God has put together, no one may put asunder” is frequently quoted, not least in the marriage ceremony itself. Rarely though is the context of this saying of Jesus taken into account, that he is responding to a test. For Christians, there is no questioning of the bottom line here, that marriage is a life long commitment of man and woman. Yet as we all know, just as Jesus knew, life is not so simple.
In this part of the journey to Jerusalem, what really matters is how Jesus follows this by what he says to the disciples. He takes the issue a step further by making divorce lead to adultery. Adultery as we know is the sixth commandment, also found in the book of Deuteronomy from which the Pharisees quoted. It makes clear that adultery is an offence against the wife as much as against the husband. This recalls Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, an independent piece of Gospel tradition which is found in the Gospel of John, though it certainly does not belong there. She is certainly a victim. The final words of that scene must always echo with us: “Woman, has no one condemned you? … Then neither do I”. It seems that Jesus takes a firm line with the Pharisees and his own disciples while for the powerless caught up in such situations, he shows remarkable compassion.
The theory is that marriage is a key to our humanity, it is the immediate conclusion of Genesis immediately the man and woman come together. Yet in practice our fallen humanity reminds us that there is no guarantee of success in marriage, the issue raised by the Pharisees. How the Church responds in practice whilst remaining firm with the theory will always be a challenge. Saying more would go well beyond this reflection but for us as for Jesus, compassion must always be uppermost.