FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time ( B )
Genesis 2:18-24 | Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6 | Hebrews 2:9-11 | Mark 10:2-12
There’s a lot of low-hanging fruits in our readings this Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, which of course are always the most tempting to grab. If we reach a little more deeply into our texts, we are being taught that we must live in communion with others, follow in the footsteps of our compassionate God and accompany families in difficulty.
Mikhaela attempted suicide. Her injury was so severe that she should have died, but she recovered and sought out Dr. Jimmy for therapy. The two had been meeting together for some time. They covered a lot of ground. Dr. Jimmy uncovered what he thought was keen insight into her pain, and she seemed to agree. One day Dr. Jimmy was driving and saw Mikaela talking with a friend and felt compelled to pull over and say hi. So the three sat and talked and laughed and shot the breeze for a half hour or so. When their sessions together were coming to a close, there was considerable healing and Mikhaela had been restored to a place of wholeness, Dr. Jimmy asked her what she thought the turning point was. He expected to hear about powerful, life changing insights that were uncovered and discussed. Instead Mikhaela pointed to the day that Dr. Jimmy sat with him and his friend and just visited. And perhaps his willingness to sit down and take an interest in his patient outside of the clinic made his counseling more effective...but something happened that day...they rested in the presence of one another, they shared life...they connected. The power of Christ was released and there was healing.
It is not good for human persons to be alone. The physical world — including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth —are interesting, but none of them fully resolves the pain and void of human loneliness. In our First reading from the Book of Genesis, God surgically removes a rib from the man’s side and lovingly shapes the rib into a second human being who is like the man and a the same time opposite him, like two puzzle pieces that fit together. The man awakes and instantly speaks perfect Hebrew, "Ooo-là-là! Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!" We need one another in order to live fully. We are relational creatures and when our relationality is disrupted, we experience pain and void. The on-going scourge of the global pandemic creates distance between and amongst us. We are restricted from visiting our families and friends. Those who are hospitalized and seriously ill with Coronavirus couldn’t receive visitors. Around 38,493 people died in isolation from the support of their loved ones. Grandparents are deprived of the joy of being with their grandchildren. Health care workers are isolated from their spouses and children. We, humans, are hardwired for connection. God created us not to be isolated beings, but rather people who live life with others. These trying times of pandemic have revealed to us loud and clear that it is human nature to be kind and compassionate to each other, forbear and forgive each other, submit to each other and build each other up, be warm and welcoming to each other, encourage each other, admonish and comfort each other, and pray for each other and bear each other’s burdens — even if we are radically different from each other — for we are bone from one another’s bones and flesh from one another’s flesh.
Way back in my high school days, we formed human pyramids and towers during our SANGKAN, an inter-seminary sporting event for high school seminarians. To form a human pyramid, we knelt on top of each other at five levels and some students make a circle and stand on the shoulders of those below them. Normally the heavier and stronger ones are tasked to hold the basement of each figure while the lighter and more flexible ones take the upper positions that require more control of the body. Back then I weigh a whopping 215 pounds so I was always at the bottom of the tiers. This cheer stunt has taught me important lessons. No one can get to the top of the pyramid without stepping on the bottom rows. And the lowest row in the pyramid always has to sacrifice their body through pain, pressure, and discomfort, in order for one person to reach the top.
In the pyramid of eternity, God does the hard work on the bottom so that we can reach the top. The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews shows that Jesus became incarnate, thus for a time becoming “lower than the angels” to suffer with us — and more, to do so on our behalf. He could have chosen other means of saving the world, but for his own wise reasons he has made the way of suffering the royal road to glory. It all boils down to one thing — compassion. Compassion points to a willingness to suffer on others’ behalf. The Latin cum plus the root word passio literally means “to suffer with.” The principal way in which God shows His compassion for the world is by Jesus entering into it. The compassion of God is seen in the suffering of Christ. God came and identified with our affliction. He is not a God who stands far-off, apathetic to the concerns of a world he has long abandoned. He is instead a God who enters in, who identifies and takes the burdens of the world on himself. When we are afflicted with disease and pain, he cares. When we are grieving the loss of dear ones, he cares. When we are confused and in a maze of misdirection, desperately needing leadership, he has compassion for us. When we are mistreated, he feels for us. When we dredge ourselves into the mire of sin, he grieves over that disaster. When, in the hardness of heart, we even hatefully oppose him, he continues to feel for us. He always has and always will show great care and concern for us. As German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "God is not a God who rules from above, but who carries from below." We are called to follow in the footsteps of this compassionate God.
Eduardo went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone and it rang during prayer. The priest scolded him. The congregation admonished him after prayers for interrupting the silence. His wife kept on lecturing him on his carelessness all the way home. One could see the shame, embarrassment and humiliation on his face. After all this, he never stepped foot in the church again. That evening, he went to a bar. He was still nervous and trembling. He spilled his drink on the table by accident. The barista apologized and gave him paper towels to clean himself. The janitor mopped the floor. The manager offered him a complimentary drink. She also gave him a huge hug and a peck while saying, “Don’t worry man. Who doesn’t make mistakes?”. He has not stopped going to that bar since then.
In our Gospel, Jesus was being quizzed by the Pharisees about divorce. Jesus’ answer takes us back to the Book of Genesis. Marriage for Jesus is seen as a fulfillment of the Edenic realities of gender differences and the unity of the male and the female prior to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Yet, Jesus suggests that something has changed in humanity so that divorce is no longer necessary. This is certainly a difficult topic to discuss these days. We live in a culture that does not always support this vision of marital commitment. Human love, of course, can fail. Sometimes spouses divorce, and families fall apart. In fact, On August 17, 2021, the House Committee on Population and Family Relations endorsed for plenary approval a bill reinstituting absolute divorce as an alternative mode for the dissolution of marriage in the Philippines. It is a sad reality that many people have experienced tragic conflict in their marriages that they never wanted or even dreamed would happen. As we listen to Jesus’ challenging words, we also need to remember his gracious welcome toward those in need of mercy, his embrace of people whose lives had fallen short of the ideal. Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us that Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy and that the Church is called to reflect that merciful face to the world today. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Francis encourages pastors to listen to people in complicated marriage situations “with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church”. In reality, what happens is we hear people say, "They cannot receive Communion." "They cannot serve in Church." "They can not do this and that.” That temptation of some people to emphasize “no, no and no” and what is allowed or prohibited is the same drama Jesus experienced with the Pharisees. While we uphold indissolubility of marriage and protection of family life, for families in difficulty we must welcome, accompany, discern, and integrate them to Church and then everyone will see the doors open. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum