Mark 10:2-16 [140B]
The readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time focus on God’s design for marriage between man and woman. In ancient times and modern, this fundamental concept of marriage has been challenged, and has often involved political overtones.
The first reading is an excerpt from the well-known second creation story from the Book of Genesis, 2:4—3:24. Scholars date the composition of this text to around 950 BC, during the period of the United Monarchy (1020–922 BC). Over the centuries, Israel would reflect on this time as their “golden age,” and for good reason: during much of this period, Israel enjoyed the status as one of the most powerful military and political forces in their region. It was during the reigns of King David, and his son, Solomon, that the earliest written pieces of the Old Testament were being produced. For the first time in Israel’s near thousand-year existence (between Abraham, 2000 BC and David, 1000 BC), Israel was settling into a land (the Promised Land). And for the first time in its history, Israel had the time and luxury to begin putting its sacred history with Yahweh into written form. (It is interesting to note that the “record” of the first thousand years of Israel’s history existed in oral form only.)
While many modern Christians likely view the story of the “man” and the “woman” who “become one flesh” as a religious lesson on God’s desire for man to find a “suitable partner” for holy marriage, the original audience (in 950 BC) would have picked up on the political lesson here as well. King David had seven wives (1 Chr 3) and King Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (see 1 Kgs 11:3)! The unknown author behind the writing of the second creation story challenged the political and religious leadership of his day to a higher moral code with regards to marriage and accountability before God’s laws.
In a similar way in today’s Gospel reading, the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees is politically charged. The Pharisees initial question posed to Jesus, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” had to do with an issue of the Mosaic law, a concept for Jews in antiquity that embodied both religion and politics. But in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, he diffused the politics associated with the Mosaic law on divorce, focusing rather on God’s divine design for marriage. By shifting the focus of God’s intent for man and woman to become “one flesh” rather than on the technicalities of Moses’ instruction for divorce, Jesus is able to emphasize the mutual responsibility and duty between the man and the woman in marriage. In a later private conversation with his disciples, Jesus reiterated that neither man nor woman has the moral authority to illegitimately “divorce” the other since both are equals in marriage.
For six of the next seven Sundays, we hear from the Letter to the Hebrews as the second reading. Hebrews is one of the New Testament’s most complex and theologically rich writings. Scholars think Hebrews was originally a sermon delivered to a late first-century AD Christian congregation in need of being bolstered in the faith. Describing the community of believers as “brothers” with Christ likely helped strengthen their faith.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz