For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity 18 – Genesis 2:18-24 (Related)
It is well known that the beginning of Genesis contain not one but two accounts of creation, and the evidence suggests that they were written over 300 years apart from one another. Chapter 2 gives the earlier account, and like all history tells us as much about the period in which it was written as it does about the events it describes. But the selection which our lectionary gives us for today zooms in on one aspect, that of the relationship between the sexes and their role in reproduction for the continuance of the race.
In preparing this blog I read a few commentaries on the passage, and, like history, it was significant when those comments were written. The one written this year was full of how we mustn’t read this passage as anthropocentric and heteronormative, and stuff about what a womanist reading of the passage would have it say, and how we mustn’t upset anyone from the LGBTQ+ community by the way we teach from it. Suddenly this has become a huge agenda, and any biblical passage which appears to challenge it has to be reinterpreted to make it all OK. And, to be fair, it has been mishandled and used offensively. So how might we read it intelligently, and be guided by the text itself and not what political correctness demands of it?
This is where the Hebrew text becomes important. In fact it is full of word-play: the word adamah means earth or clay, and adam means human, but not necessarily male. It is very unlikely to be a proper name. but then there are also ish which does mean a (male) man, and ishah, a (female) wife. What this means is that God creates a human from the earth, not necessarily a man.
In the later account of creation, God stands apart and speaks his commands, and everything he makes is ‘very good’. But in Gen 2 God gets down and dirty, and there is the first appearance of something which is not good: loneliness. So God plays trial and error with various animals, none of which can fully help the human in the search for companionship. So God takes the human and performs surgery, splitting apart the body into two, who are complementary, and which quite literally fit together. Only at this point are the two people called ish and ishah. So if you think this story mandates male dominance over the female, think again. It is much more about companionship and complementarity than about a divinely commanded pecking order, and the relationship is about putting back together what God separated, quite literally when it comes to sexual intercourse.
So there are some principles which we can take from this passage. Firstly, that being alone is not good: we do need other people, and maybe one special other person. Secondly, that relationships are designed to be permanent: separation might have been the initial way in which God created, but from then on it is about putting back together to make one flesh. The motif of what used to be called ‘leaving and cleaving’ implies permanence, not a series of one night stands. Thirdly, that complementarity is expressed in physical terms, not just emotional. The passage seems to be about the coming together of difference, not sameness. And fourthly, as we shall see if we read on into the next chapter, all of the above can go wrong, and that what went wrong for our first ancestors ripples down the millennia in its effects. So people are lonely and alone, and have to make the best of it, just as some couple find themselves unable to reproduce. Relationships do come to and end, for a variety of reasons, and Jesus reflects on this in today’s Gospel reading, taking a liberal approach, blaming hardness of heart (which is usually there somewhere in any divorce) for the sad fact that sometimes separation is necessary. Men do dominate women (and women men) rather than living in harmony as loving partners. Some people do find themselves sexually attracted to those of the same sex in a way which just doesn’t fit with the witness of Scripture or the tradition of the Church, and often therefore find themselves in lonely places.
Any reading of this passage has to take all this into consideration, whilst also holding true to the rest of Scripture, and it should lead to both celebration and compassion, but never to name-calling or hostility.