04 October 2009

SUPER TYPHOON

27 Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 10:2-16

At the height of a series of super typhoons, the gospel today makes us face a burning issue: divorce. How appropriate! For, indeed, divorce hits a family as devastating as, if not more devastating than, a super typhoon does. When divorce strikes, the tragedy is worse than a thousand super typhoons: not only houses but households are wrecked. The casualties are not only persons but the personhood of every person belonging to a broken family. As we pray that for safety in the midst of any typhoon so should we pray for security against the menace of divorce. As we should always be prepared for any calamity so do we need to strengthen our families in facing the perennial threat of brokenness.

While we recently witnessed how perilous creation can be as strong typhoons struck us one after the other, the first reading today reminds us about how creation started according to a religious myth. All great religions have their sacred creation stories. For us, Christians, and for our Jewish brethren, we have two in the book of Genesis, and our first reading today gives us one of those. The first reading today zeroes in on the creation of humanity. God fashioned man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Thereupon, the first of our race came to life. The breath of God is the life of humanity. Eden was the first address of humanity, a beautiful garden given by God to be lived in and governed.

When God created man, what He had in mind and heart was not a single individual given the name “Adam”. The truth is, “Adam” is not really a proper name of a person. “Adam” is from the Hebrew word ‘adamah, meaning “from the earth”. Thus, it is more correct to understand and say that “Adam” does not tell us what the name of the first man was but how the first man was created: from the dust of the earth.

What God had in mind and heart when He created the first man was humanity. The first man, called “Adam”, embodies the entire humanity. He is the Man. Not an animal, he found no suitable mate among the animals. He is human. He is the proto-type of the entire humanity.

God gave man a particular mate. He made him fall into a very deep sleep, so deep that man did not sense at all that God already took one of his ribs. After enclosing the rib with flesh, God created a new person. The first one was classified as male while this second as female. Different though they were, they were one, since the second came from the first. Although their genders were different, the two were one. “At last, this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Woman should she be called, “ said the man. Isha – this is the Hebrew word for “woman”, while man is ish. Isha came from ish. Later on, isha was called Eve which, in Hebrew, eva, literally means “mother of all the living.”

The writer of today’s first reading from the book of Genesis concluded with an explanation: “Because of this a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they are one body.” In marriage, the two become one body. Marriage alone captures the original completion of the entire man in one body.

This original vision of uniting and completing was what Jesus referred to in the gospel today. Some Pharisees approached Jesus with a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus responded with a question too: “What did Moses command you?” And the Pharisees answered in the light of Deuteronomy 24:1-4: The Law permits a man to leave his wife provided that he issues a writ of divorce. Such a writ also gives the woman the freedom to marry another man. While the Law permits divorce, it is, however, not clear when divorce really becomes legal. As far as acceptable basis for divorce is concerned, there are two schools of thought. One is the strict school of Shammai that accepts adultery only as the acceptable ground for divorce. Another is the too lenient school of Hellil that accepts almost anything as acceptable basis for divorce, even as trivial a thing as the wife serving the husband cold dinner or staining his tunic. That is why divorce is rampant and marriage provides no security, most especially, to women in Jewish society. Only men can divorce their wives. A wife may sue her husband in court to force him to leave her but, in the end, only the man decides to divorce her or not. Such a Law is very clearly unjust, is it not? And that is what Jesus wanted to change.

In his response to the Pharisees, Jesus did not ridicule the Law of Moses; rather, He explained that the Mosaic Law was a compromise with or an accommodation for human sinfulness. And just a person’s body cannot be divided without the same person being killed, so is the permanence of matrimonial bond. What God unites and makes one in marriage, man cannot and should not separate through divorce. The bond of marriage is a lifetime covenant. As valuable as this point, Jesus’ wanted to protect women from becoming a disposable possession of men. Hence, the whole issue is not only about religion but very much about justice, too. It is not only about marriage but also about human dignity.

That is how the Lord is. He is an Ally of the oppressed and the marginalized in society. The gospel today emphasizes this truth even more as it includes an encounter between Jesus and one of the marginalized sectors in Jewish society, the children. When the disciples sent away those who brought children to have Jesus touch them, Jesus rebuked them and, instead, embraced the children, touched them, blessed them, and presented them as the image of those who belong to God’s kingdom.

In a society weak in valuing marriage and family life, where changing spouses looks like changing clothes only and the impediments to divorce can easily be circumvented, children, indeed, are the first and worst victims. They are the ones swept away and drowned by the flood caused by the typhoon of their parents’ divorce. And if asked who among them really want their children to suffer such a trauma, whose effect a child may have to bear for the rest of its life, would any divorcee sound convincing in saying “Not I”?

Jesus encourages each of us to go back to the beginning of everything so that we may not forget the original plan of God. This is not a punishment but an invitation to live with loyalty to God’s will and purpose. True, there are mistakes, infidelities, and hurts that can possibly be part of any marriage. Husband and wife may be victims and victimizers themselves. Perhaps, the cold silence between spouses may last for years and their marriage simply collapses. But that cannot be enough reason to turn away from God’s original plan when He created and made one the first ish and isha, the ‘adamah and the eva, man and woman. The Church strives to provide for human weakness and, though sometimes the process proves to be too painstakingly slow, she works to resolve the crisis without violating the original plan of God. Because we believe that marriage is a sacrament, a holy, visible, and efficacious sign of divine grace, we reject any misleading move that comes from a distorted view on marriage as something experimental. The sacrament of matrimony is the marriage between three, not two, individuals: the man, the woman, and Christ Jesus who, in the midst of violent and super typhoons that threaten family-life, keeps on reminding and helping husband and wife to cling to God alone who, in the first place, created and made them one.

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