Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Genesis 2:18-25
Psalm 128
Mark 7:24-30


Today we come to the conclusion of God's creative act, as told in the second chapter of Genesis. Man has been formed from the dust, but no matter what God brings forth in this man's presence, nothing is quite the right fit to be his companion. I'm sure that the first Fido might take some umbrage at that fact... but I digress. The perfect compliment to the masculine is the feminine. In Scripture we see concepts of the feminine used to describe God's love. Matthew 23 and Luke 13 both tell of the event where Jesus compared the love of the Father to that of a mother bird who gathers her chicks under her wing. Wisdom, which is used frequently in the Old Testament and is often in Christian literature cited as a personified in Christ Jesus, is directly addressed in feminine tones in passages such as Proverbs 8:22. If you head into the Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament, you find even more references to Wisdom in the feminine. Even the name Ruach HaKodesh, the Hebrew term for the Holy Spirit, has a feminine nuance. I could go into some detail about this, but it gets long, technical, and, well, boring if you're not into Biblical linguistic scholarship. It's not light reading. Suffice it to say that it's well documented historically and in Christian history. I don't often say this in a sermon, but, in this instance, trust me... it's there.

For God to create for the Man a helpmate, a companion, a friend, well... it makes it a natural that the individual is feminine. It balances the masculinity of the Man, it more fully draws out the full nature of the Godhead for all to see. In the creation of Man and Woman, the full image and likeness of God is made manifest in a tangible, living way among God's creation.

It should come to us as no surprise that many women were among those, in both Old and New Testament times, who recognized God's wisdom, his grace, and his power, and that they went on to boldly proclaim it. Miriam, the wife of Moses at the time of the Exodus, rose her voice in song to praise the deliverance of the Israelites. Certainly Deborah, the female Judge, comes to mind... as do the examples of Boaz, Ruth, and others. And who can forget examples like the Syro-Phonecian woman from our Gospel today... Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe... Mary Magdalene... and the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. God works in and through the lives of women moment by moment, day by day, and has done so throughout the history of the world. He will continue to do so, even until the end of time.

There is a complimentary nature in the dynamic that exists between the masculine and the feminine, both in the Godhead, and in our human race. Sadly, we exist in an era that sometimes seeks to blur those lines... and in doing so, it does a disservice, not simply to our earthly lives, but to our understanding of the Godhead.

Now I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about women holding positions of leadership and authority here...  I'm not making a case for the barefoot and pregnant camp, if that's where you think I am going. What I am talking about is a growing lack of recognition of the special, and beautiful complimentary relationship that God desires between men and women in the ongoing life of the human race. 

Men are guilty, and have been for far too long, of undervaluing the contributions and voices of women. We like to talk about the women who have influenced us, but males tend to be influenced and groomed by men, and females by women. And this trend can go both ways, though it does seem that males are predominantly more guilty of this trend than females. Speaking of marriage in particular, voices and needs of the woman are to be of paramount importance to the man... and man's needs to the woman. Just as a caveat, I am not saying that a woman who is bleeding out should stay at home and entertain the man's needs as opposed to going to the hospital... I am speaking of a general deference towards one another that must exist as a foundational element of a healthy, vibrant, and godly marriage. When the two become 'one flesh' and exist in harmony, they are a living expression of the unity of the Godhead's male and female attributes, just as much as they are a living expression of the relationship between Christ and his Church.

A marriage so founded is one in which there is no shame, for there is nothing to cover up. The fact that the author of Genesis turned that little phrase at the end of our first reading about shameless nakedness is telling. The account of Ham seeing Noah naked, taken together with the rest of Scripture's witness about nakedness is clear: what was once pure, holy, and untainted with selfishness has become an occasion for an excitement of the senses, one in which the originally created order between man and women experiences a rupture. When the male and female relationship exists in harmony with God's created order, there is no shame... and the balance between the masculine and the feminine in this world becomes a true reflection of God's nature, which is what the human race was created to be.

This is not, however, to be read as an indictment of those, male and female, who do not desire marriage... or who feel called to lives marked by celibacy. God has clearly made it known that singleness and celibacy are ways of life that he blesses when it is good and right for the individual involved and their relationship with God, their mission, etc. It only becomes a problem when those so called fail to embrace the feminine or the masculine voices and experiences of their peers as true reflections of the human condition, as situations in need of addressing, or as, yes, at times burdens that they are called to equally bear with their male or female counterparts.

Ultimately, the message I want you to walk away from today's readings with is that each of us, male and female, are both called to reflect certain elements of God's nature, and that without one another's voices, experiences, and companionship, we become, at least a bit, impoverished... something less than God wants us to be.

And that's something we should strive to avoid... for if we don't, we'll have a very hard time understanding and embracing God as revealed in the pages of Scripture, and in the life of his faithful people from age to age.


That the leaders and institutions of Christ's Church would value the voices and experiences of all her children, both male and female, as they seek to live in fidelity to the Gospel in the midst of this ever-changing world; let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That married couples would rejoice in the unique gifts that they bring to their unions:
those they bring from their personal experiences,
as well as those which are rooted in their masculine and feminine traits;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That men and women who are single
might find meaningful and lasting friendships with others,
so that any sense of isolation may warded off,
and so that the rich diversity of the masculine and the feminine
may be a part of their lived experiences;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who despair over their own personal sense of identity
may find, in God, a deep sense of purpose and meaning in the Creation narrative,
and that, through Scripture,
they may seek out what God is calling them to in life;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.  

That those whose children are sick, suffering, and dying,
may be comforted by the presence of God,
 and encouraged in their time of trouble;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the prayers of our hearts,
and the prayers we speak aloud,
may rise as a pure and holy incense before the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth...
... let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.