Proper 22 (27), Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
3 October 2021
The congregation I served in Winnipeg is located in the West End. The West End had been the place where German immigrants settled and when the congregation moved and erected a new building it chose to stay in the neighbourhood. The thing though was that the members did not stay there but as they prospered moved to the suburbs. And so the neighbourhood changed. New groups of immigrants moved in, but with prosperity moving to the suburbs, poverty moved in. While the church had stayed in the community, it had not stayed for the sake of the community and regarded the changed environment as alien to itself. It was not us. It was them.
This is often how we live in society. Us and them. When I was young my mother instructed us that when we were older, we should not marry someone from a different culture (that was her racism) and not from a “broken home.” It turned out that my brother and I became the ones from a broken home.
That the world consisted of us and them was particularly obvious in our home as our mother harboured great suspicion toward the world. Growing up we learned that we were different, which we were, not only for the lederhosen she made us wear and that traumatized my brother as his classmates made fun of him. We lived in a parallel universe in which we were smarter, wiser, and better than the rest of the world.
I don’t know when I realized that we were not smarter, wiser, or better than everyone else. I suspect that I knew it the first time I went to play at a friend’s house. (My mother also usually told me that being smarter, wiser, and better did not apply to me). I learned it intuitively by being with others, without seeing the contradiction to what I was learning at home.
The other place I learned that we were not smarter, wiser, and better than others was the church. For the scriptures only distinguish between creator and creation, between God and God’s people. And the only one who remained sinless is Jesus (Hebrews 4:15). Being in need of redemption is essential to what it means to be human, as wonderful as it is to be human.
I believe I also had the sense that we all are created in the image of God. Children are generally more receptive to wonder than adults.
And here I learned that we were not even all that different, even if more extreme, in our desire to distinguish ourselves from others. Us and Them was not my mother’s invention.
I suppose that such judgments of being better can be born of many things. And it is an ignorance of its own kind for it makes oneself the measure of all things and closes oneself off to learning from others.
That was certainly the case with European explorers and settlers who set foot on these and other shores. What did not conform to what they knew, was regarded as primitive, savage, and inferior. Much pain and suffering could have been avoided without such value judgments, but then, those value judgments also served as justification for conquest and domination. That is the legacy of colonization.
Both our readings from Genesis and Mark speak of community, although seen in the context of male-female partnership. Our Gospel reading has been used to judge and to oppress: judge those who are divorced or separated, to further the oppression of women who need to leave an abusive husband, and to exclude those whose partner is of the same sex. Jesus says nothing like that.
It seems to me that Jesus speaks against the commodification of relationships, he asserts that people are not disposable, one cannot simply send someone away, or break up by text or twitter.
And yet that even our best intentions do not always work out would hardly be a surprise to our redeemer.
The story from Genesis follows the account of creation in Genesis 1, in which each day ends with the summation that it was good, and even very good. It is an attribution of all of creation to God and the refrain of each day states not only the goodness of the created world but also the goodness of the creator. Today’s passage follows and considers what it means to be human.
And being human means to be in relationship, with God, no doubt, but also with other humans. In almost comical fashion the story tells of the loneliness of the first human. While God longs for communion with God’s creation, God also realizes that it is not good for us to be alone and God sets out to create a partner. It turns out that cattle, fish, the birds of the air, and every creeping thing do not satisfy our need for companionship, and so God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and when Adam wakes from his sleep, he exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Animals and creeping things are nice, but they are not the same as another human being.
In a world of us and them it is worthy to note that Adam does not exclaim, who is that?, or I am better, or she is wrong (that comes later), but he recognizes Eve as being like him. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
Both our Gospel reading and our reading from the book of Genesis have at their core that it is not good for us to be alone. And while they state this truth in the context of male – female partnership (family is the basic building block of society) and expands from there outward, marriage and partnership draw in others, children, the friends of children and their parents, it builds economic relationships, it cares about its community. The fecundity of marriage consists not only of children but in the welcome it extends to the world. In this sense marriage describes what is human and one does not have to be married to share in it.
In a lecture on health, Wendell Berry speaks about the root of our word health, which is wholeness. “I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John,” says Berry, “that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”1
Wholeness knows no them but only us.