We live in a fractured world. We are divided by language, race, class, clan, tribe, and sadly even religion. Not to mention politics and warfare. Where and how is our world to find unity, peace, reconciliation? Our readings today point us the way. Usually we link the first reading and the gospel to find the theme, but I would suggest that today we can trace a theme of unity across all three readings.
The creation story that we hear today (Genesis 2.18-24) is the second of two creation stories side by side. It is what the biblical scholars call the Yahwist creation account, which means that it is very old. It is worth remember this sometimes – how often in life do you get to pick up literature that goes back some 2800 years to the very dawn of human memory?
So here we are with some of the earliest recorded thinking of our ancestors, inspired by God as they set down their understanding of what it is to be human, of where our world comes from and what gives us hope. Just as in the earlier account of creation, we learn that gender is not accidental. There we heard ‘male and female, God made them’. Here we learn that God made man and woman to be companions for each other. It leads to the wonderful exclamation from Adam, ‘bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh’. To see in this male priority is to misread it. It is in fact a wonderful, exultant word of praise for marriage, in which husband and wife will share all that life brings. The joy of one will be the joy of the other; the sorrow of one will be the sorrow of the other. ‘My other half’ a spouse will sometimes say of their husband or wife.
Where a marriage works, there is a growing in unity, an overcoming of division and selfishness, a deepening of mutual understanding, which is for the healing of the world. Jesus reflects on this mystery in the gospel (Mark 10.2-16). ‘The two become one body’ he tells us. We think, quite naturally, of sexuality, and of how in marriage this leads a couple to a union which reaches deep into their souls. Later, among the early Christians, this will be used as an image of the union of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5.32). One of the tiresome criticisms of the Church today is that we are not earthy enough, that we depreciate the human body. Hardly. From the earliest Jewish traditions, through Jesus, up to the present moment, the body is esteemed and its power of love and union through the hallowing of marriage is seen as a pathway to God. Human unity leads men and women to nothing less than a spiritual union with God.
In the second reading (Heb. 2.9-11) we find a different kind of union, the union of suffering. The king of glory sets aside his glory and experiences suffering and death, so that we might be set free. Indeed, his perfection is found in this loving embrace of us in all our vulnerability, sharing that vulnerability with us. Here is his unity with us, so that we might be lifted up by him. Suffering as a form of perfection? Death turned into something good? In the Greek world of the eastern Mediterranean it as a shocking thing to say because perfection meant exactly that: no decay, no suffering, no weakness. Even today we struggle to understand, although intuitively we know at once that it makes sense. It is part of God’s love for us that he enters into our world, into flesh, even, so that nothing might come between us and his love.
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of St Mary's, East Finchley, in north London.