Texts: Genesis 2:18-21; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-6
Genesis chapter 1 gives us the lovely refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” But Genesis 2 is very different. The first seventeen verses are mostly taken up with the landscape and geography of the Garden of Eden.
There are no inhabitants in the garden until the creation of Adam in the seventh verse. After Adam is created and the fruitful garden is planted, the only mention of goodness is about the trees that give shade and fruit. After all this God considers the lone human in the picture and decides that Adam still lacks what he needs, for his own good.
Adam in the creation story of Genesis 2 signifies the first human existence in the garden and strictly speaking did not, at that moment, represent gender. Adam was an incomplete form of humanity. All the hopes, dreams, and intentions that God had for the human being in creation could not be attained by Adam alone. God created animals and invited Adam to name each one.
But God saw that none of these completed Adam. The language of the scripture is clear that a subservient partner was not God’s plan. The Hebrew word “ezer” that describes the creature necessary to complement Adam means someone who is equal to, and in some circumstances superior to the one being helped.
When the helper was at last brought to Adam, something truly amazing happened - Adam became defined properly and completely for the first time. We might argue that it was not until the helper was known to Adam that he became “he” and the woman became “she”. Out of pure joy for himself and his partner-helper Adam broke into a hymn of praise, “this at last…”
Genesis 2 caps this part of the creation story with a solemn declaration: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This declaration is usually and reasonably applied to describe marriage, and the obligations of family life. But it also goes further, suggesting that creation is never completely fruitful except when humanity dwells in stable community.
God is testing our expectation and understanding of the superlative here. How good can creation be? Only as good as our community life held together through a strong moral and ethical commitment to relationship. And the burden of creating community of such integrity belongs to everyone no matter what their marital status or gender might be.
Our creative power is a great gift and also a fearful one. As the writer of Hebrews observes, God gives us tremendous capacities. By comparison, God has given angels only slightly more authority than humans. Our extraordinary advances in science and the arts show that there are no frontiers that humans cannot explore, and none in which we do not aspire to mastery.
One effect of this is that we no longer simplistically understand our universe as revolving around the earth. But we sometimes forget that we still have limitations too. Everything is not entirely under our control. We need good boundaries and guidance to fully become what God has created us to be. But we don’t always agree on the source of those things.
Right now we know the pain of this most particularly as we experience our own community in conflict over mask mandates and vaccination programs. Whom shall we listen to? What is right and good? People on every side seek to occupy the moral high ground.
In the gospel today some Pharisees posed the infamous question about the law code permitting husbands to divorce their wives on certain grounds. They spoke as godly leaders representing, in their best understanding, the moral high ground based in biblical teaching. But on another level they represented public opposition to Jesus and his teachings which challenged theirs.
Jesus identified the legal precedent as something written by Moses. He observed that Moses was yielding to people’s “hardness of heart”. In scripture this phrase always means failure to love.
In this way Jesus took on two issues. First, admitting that we all fail to keep God’s commandment to love, and human concessions such as Moses gave are necessary when we do. And second, that moral high ground is attained only through love by hearts that are broken open.
The disciples later queried Jesus about “this matter” perhaps because Moses’s application was more merciful than Jesus’s. His following response to them seems harsh. Jesus spoke of adultery and applied his comment to both men and women.
But Jesus didn’t say this to create guilt. He said literally that divorce and remarriage cause adulteration to both partners. It changes us. Divorce has touched every person in this room one way or another. We all benefit by contemplating how human community is impacted whenever relationships crumble.
It is our constant challenge to love each other without limitation. It’s the only way we can overcome those inevitable separations caused by our differences. But love always comes at a cost, as Jesus knew all too well. The greatest love is always founded upon self-sacrifice. That is the highest ground of good.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus cautioned his disciples when they tried to prevent parents from bringing children to him for a blessing. The connection between these stories isn’t clear. Except that the disciples’ hearts were hardened to the children. And therefore to the reign of God in Jesus too.
But consider also how children have a very absolute sense of the world. For them everything is completely life or completely death. Along with their heightened sense of dramatic disaster, children also have confidence that life is grandly and cosmically restored. So God’s promises are real to children. Despite every experience that breaks their hearts; in all kinds of failure or loss, wonderful new life awaits in the wings.
Like the disciples we sometimes fail to welcome God’s reign. So we too are judged by Jesus. Jesus reminds us all to be children in faith. Allow your hearts to be broken open. Trust just as completely that beyond all failure, beyond death even, in God’s reign everyone gets to start over.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.