Sunday Scripture: Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Welcome to this, the twelfth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass. 

I'm very late this week, but had to write two important new prelims, one on Genesis and a bit on Hebrews. There is so much in the readings every week and it is a challenge to achieve a balance between depth of information and brevity to assist reading.

In any case, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I sincerely hope that this reflection will inspire you, answer some questions you may have, help you to see how fantastic Sacred Scripture is and perhaps begin to share some of my love and passion for the Bible as you begin to comprehend how layered and multi-faceted, and what a carefully considered part of the Mass the readings are. If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

The Family of God

The readings are:
  • Genesis 2:18-24
  • Psalm: 127; Response: v. 5.
  • Second Reading: Hebrews 2: 9-11
  • Gospel: Mark 10: 2-16
First, a little preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them.

I have to say that I was rather surprised to note that we have got this far-eleven previous reflections-without having a reading from The Book of Genesis. As I am sure everyone knows, Genesis (from the Latin Vulgate, in turn borrowed or transliterated from Greek γένεσις, meaning "origin"; Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית‎, Bereʾšyt, "In [the] beginning"), is the first book of the Hebrew Bible (the TaNaKh) and the Christian Old Testament. It is of huge importance to me, as it is the source of much controversy. Today, Atheists erroneously consider that it is a scientific manual with which Christians prescribe the blue-print of creation. Although some literalists still consider that creation happened just as the English translation of the TaNaKh recounts, this idea is broadly discounted; again, I refer you to the teaching of Dei Verbum which asks that scholars pay attention to the literary forms:
"The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another." Dei Verbum 12.
Genesis is typically Jewish in its purpose as a story to explain the origins of the world. That's not to say that Genesis is just made up nonsense; far from it! It contains some of the most important and beautiful truths of our being. This is the Jewish way of thinking about things though: if they want to understand how something works, they tell stories.

One of the major questions that confronts any reader of the Bible, and especially pertinent if you consider it to be the Word of God, has to relate to the factual authenticity of its contents. The book of Genesis offers an account of creation which many mock in today’s scientific community and may seem at best, simplistic to the uninitiated. If the whole of the Bible is inspired, how does one understand the figures and dates of the primeval age alone? What about God’s direct intervention in the affairs of men? For example, the book of Exodus itself proclaims:
“the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders…” (Deut. 26: 5-9) 
Did these miraculous events really occur the way they are documented in the Bible? In his work Reading the Old Testament, Lawrence Boadt suggests that slaves escaping into the Sinai were probably a common occurrence. He gives examples of Egyptian documents which mention attempts to stop such groups (Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament (New York: Paulist Press, 1984) p.163-165). He goes on to note that the important difference with the Exodus escape is the Divine element it held for Israel. He postulates that Egypt may not have even realised this aspect at all!

Another valuable dimension to this is given by the great Biblical Scholar, Dr. Gerhard von Rad. He describes the way that some academics only analyse the historical veracity of the Torah as “historical materialism” in his book Genesis (von Rad, G. Genesis (London: SCM Press, 1961) p.31). Designating this kind of narrative as “saga”, von Rad explains that the expectation that the saga should either contain historical fact, or else it can be described as merely a product of poetic fantasy is an extremely crass misunderstanding of its essence. It is true, however, that this scepticism has been the attitude prevalent since the 19th Century. The saga then offers a product born of a completely different kind of intellectual activity from that of history (historie), although history (Geschichte) is what it is concerned with.

What then are these narratives? How can they be concerned with fact and yet not be tied to fact by their contents? von Rad answers by stating:
“Whatever saga we examine, we find with respect to its simplest and most original purpose that it narrates an actual event that once and for all occurred in the realm of history. It is therefore to be taken quite seriously – it is to be believed. In all that follows, therefore, let us hold fast to this: by no means is a saga merely the product of poetic fantasy; rather it comprises the sum total of the living historical recollection of peoples. In it is mirrored in fact and truth the history of a people. It is the form in which a people thinks of its own history.” 
The Old Testament sagas then, are concerned with Israel itself and the realities the people of Israel found in themselves. In this way they contain a much more real history, a history with much more truth in it than a purely factual historical writing would. They contain the secret contemporary character of apparently past events. This character is more than a list of the achievements, wars, political struggles, victories and defeats experienced by a people. It takes place on another level and speaks of inner guidance working and maturing in life’s mysteries. It is a history with God.

This week's passage tells of man's loneliness in the garden of Eden. It is from this fact that the author concludes to the divine purpose in human marriage God made marriage part of the creation. The fact that she is formed from man and not from the earth provides an explanation of sexual attraction between men and women.

Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

The Letter to The Hebrews, claims to be a “word of exhortation” (13:22) and lacks the formal features common to a letter of the time; an introduction by the sender to the recipients and an opening word of thanksgiving. Rather, it reads somewhat like a homily, its literary rhythm alternating back and forth between doctrinal exposition and moral exhortation in the same way any oral preaching tends to.
Hebrews follows a carefully planned literary structure expressed with a rhetorical finesse unmatched in other writings of the New Testament. The work is equally unique in its subject matter, drawing on a extensive and sophisticated use of the Old Testament in comparison with the New, with particular emphasis on priestly and sacrificial issues. No New Testament writing reflects more deeply on the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and none gives more attention or puts more emphasis on covenant theology.

This week, the Letter tell us how Jesus experienced [or 'tasted'] death (v. 9). This presents us with a Semitic expression (Mt 16:28; Jn 8:52) which may lead us to reflect on the way in which Adam, in choosing to taste the forbidden fruit, subjected the human race to spiritual and biological death (Gen 3:17-19). Jesus died on behalf of the entire human family. This was a representative act of consenting to death in filial obedience to the Father (Phil 2:8) and out of fraternal love for us (Eph 5:2; CCC 624). Verse 10: the leader, or the pioneer; the Greek expression refers to a "forerunner" who leads the way for others to follow (12:2; Acts 5:31). God, in glorifying His first-born Son, has opened the way for other sons to attain glory as well. Christ and His brethren have one and the same Father and so form one covenant family (Jn 17:11; Rom 8:29).

The Gospel According to St. Mark
The first thing that strikes you about Mark’s Gospel account is the pace at which the story develops. Mark’s work contrasts Matthew’s sure pedagogy and Luke’s composed account which keeps an eye on literary effect and chronological continuity. Mark simply proclaims the Good News that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come down to save mankind from death and sin by means of his death and resurrection. In this Gospel it seems possible to overhear, through the informality of writing, the voice of the storyteller himself. In this sense, Mark allows us to reach behind the Gospels to a time in history when the gospel story was circulating among the churches in fragmentary and oral form. 

Henry Wansborough O.S.B., in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, argues that a study of Mark’s gospel in particular may lead us to a clearer understanding of the personality of Jesus himself. It was Wrede, in his ground-breaking work Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien. Zugleich ein Beitrag zum Verständnis des Markusevangeliums who first proposed Mark as a theologian concerned with a two-fold mission. Wrede developed a theory that suggested that a secret about the Messiah was an important factor in Mark: although Jesus is the Messiah, he hides this and instructs his disciples to do likewise, only demons recognise his identity. Brown attacks Wrede’s position on this, although he agrees with Wrede’s conclusion that Mark is clearly a theological work, he suggests that it is possible that the christology goes back as far as to Jesus Himself. Brown goes on to state that in his opinion Wrede exaggerated Marcan secrecy that in any case, may have its roots in Jesus’ historical rejection of some messianic aspirations that circulated at the time. Kermode also picked up on Wrede’s discovery in his book The Genesis of Secrecy stressing Marcan obscurity, and suggesting that the Gospel, like the parables, remains a mystery amid moments of radiance, excluding readers from the kingdom. Brown suggests that Kermode has “isolated Mark’s writing from its ultimate Christian theology” and points out that although it is true that the prominent motifs in Mark are disobedience, failure, misunderstanding and darkness, God’s power breaks through at the Gospel’s darkest moment, Jesus’ death on the cross and an outsider like the Roman centurion is not excluded, but rather gains understanding of the truth about Jesus. 

Mark then, writes with a two-fold mission. First and foremost seems to be a pastoral aim geared towards building his reader’s faith. Daniel Harrington confirms this in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, explaining that Mark’s writing shows the members of his community how their belief in the salvific significance of the cross related to the traditions about Jesus’ life. Secondly, Mark seems to have been presenting a biographical record of Christ’s life in order that early Christian’s might understand the reality of Jesus’ life and avoid a slip into Gnosticism, where Jesus was considered a myth rather than a reality. This juxtaposed with the writings of Paul, who concentrated his emphasis on the death and resurrection of Christ, saying little about the details of his life, though he undoubtedly exhorted his disciple Timothy to “Remember Jesus Christ”(2 Timothy 2:8). It is interesting to note, however, that even when Mark does engage in polemic, it appears to be polemic with a pastoral aim. The rough form of Greek used by Mark is one internal evidence often cited to prove the Gospel’s Roman origin. There are present numerous loan words derived from Latin as well as some expressions of Latin grammar. This type of Greek was commonly spoken among the lower classes in Rome. Luiz Ruscillio in his work The Synoptic Gospels, also notes these linguistic peculiarities. Clement of Alexandria cites Rome as the place where Mark wrote the gospel (E.H. 6.14.6) and Brown notes that this is a “thesis supported by a large number of scholars”. Ruscillio also notes several other evidences: the connection between Peter and Mark suggested by Papias of Hierapolis; in 2 Tim 4:11 Paul tells Timothy to bring Mark with him to Rome, he is later described as Paul’s fellow prisoner (Philmn 24) and Peter sends greetings from Rome (Babylon) at the end of his first letter (1 Pet 5:13) “…also from my son Mark.”42. Harrington adds to this the evidence of the growing sense of impending persecution that pervades the Gospel; drawing a parallel to the threat of persecution the Christian community lived under in Rome at around 60 B.C.43.

This week; The Pharisees lay a trap for Jesus as part of a strategy to eliminate him (3:6). They anticipate He will deny the legality of divorce and so draw upon Himself the wrath of Herod Antipas and his unlawful mistress, Herodias. For it was well known that Herod, the ruler of this territory, and his consort had abandoned their spouses in order to remarry. Because John the Baptist had been executed for condemning their unlawful union (6:17-19) as he ministered in this very region (10:1). The Pharisees hope Jesus will meet the same fate as John by making the same outspoken mistake.

Jesus revokes Mosaic divorce legislation (Deut 25:1-4) by returning to God's original intention for every married couple: lifelong monogamy (10:6-9). Deuteronomy was a less than perfect law that lowered the standards of covenant faithfulness for wayward Israel (Ezek 20:25). It was always a temporary and concessionary arrangement designed to permit lesser evils in order to avoid greater ones.

Divorce and remarriage are prohibited in the New Covenant (Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11; CCC 2382-86). To divorce and remarry is to commit adultery. According to Mark's account, Jesus warns both spouses of this danger. This speaks directly to Marl's readers in ancient Rome, where men and women shared the right to initiate divorce. This double warning may evoke the well-known story of Herod Antipas' illicit union with Herodias, since both of them abandoned their respective spouses before unlawfully remarrying. Jesus' blessing of the children attaches great practical importance to the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (10:11-12). Children are, after all, the fruit of married love and the ones who stand most affected by the tragedy of divorce. God intends them to be raised and blessed in the security of a healthy family. Jesus welcomes children into the kingdom of God and so lays a foundation for the Church's practice of Infant Baptism (CCC 1250-52).

Drawing them all together...

Today we reflect on one of the most fundamental and basic issues in human life and revealed religion—the relationship between man and woman. We consider its character, its consecration in the sacrament of marriage, as well as its expression in the family, the fundamental unit of society. The beauty and dignity of humankind lies in the fact that we are made in the imago Dei, as both the high point and centre of creation, made by the Lord, made equal to compliment each other, and to reflect the divine mystery in our everyday lives. We are made for communion, we seek fulfilment in relationship and the love we share is generative—by its relationship to the divine nature, superabundant—overflowing in the gift of children and our capacity for procreation.

The Psalm today celebrates the revelation of God's loving plan for humanity in His Law, the blessings of loyalty and fecundity symbolised in the vine and the olive: "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house; your children like shoots of the olive around your table." This is reaffirmed in Jesus' teaching on divorce: "So what God has united, man must not divide." But here we crash against the terrible realities of the human condition, the clash between the ideal and the challenges of daily living, the realities if sin and nature. Jesus upholds the wonder and purity of God's plan, but His words refer to the need in the highest religious practice to deal with the reality of the broken human condition, with unfairness, betrayal, and injustice. The Law of Moses tried to control the consequences of the broken relationships of betrayal, but at the cost of women's integrity. Roman Law was more balanced, and Jesus also safeguards and acknowledges the position of women as equals. The matter is of vital concern to us today in the context of social changes, the attacks on the institution of marriage, changing social attitudes to equality, medical advances, contraception and abortion. What are we as followers of Jesus, as members of His body, to do about these challenges, the gulf between the ideal family and the reality? What about the agony of those overburdened by poverty, those abandoned by society, those betrayed in their marriages, people with homosexual tendencies who are not able to experience the creative power of the union between man and woman? The clue lies in the Letter to the Hebrews, in Jesus' fusion of the divine and the human, the fact that He has made us His brethren: "As it was for this purpose to bring a great many of His sons into glory, it was appropriate that God...should make perfect, through suffering, the leader who wold take them to their salvation." Only when this truth becomes real in our lives and the life of the Church, can we choose the ideal fully. "For the one who sanctifies, and the ones who are sanctified, are of the same stock; that is why He openly calls them brother." This is our radiant hope in our weakness.


Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, New York: Paulist Press, 1984.
Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991.
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, London: Nelson, 1969.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001.
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005.
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, New York: St. Pauls, 2011.
Magnificat Monthly Vol. 2, No. 13/ October 2012.
McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, New York, Touchstone, 1995.
von Rad, G. Genesis, London: SCM Press, 1961.

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