October 4, 2015

It isn’t good to be alone

It isn’t good to be alone. God said it, and Jesus knew it. It’s not good for human beings to be alone. And so God made us from each other and for each other. And Jesus called us to see our common humanity, and to recognize that we are connected to one another in ways that can't be undone.

It all starts in today’s first reading: “It isn’t good that the human being should be alone,” says God. “I’ll make it a partner.” And so God takes this self-contained creature and separates it into two parts. The parts differ from each other, but they’re made from the same stuff: flesh and bone. They immediately recognize each other as full, flesh-and-bone human beings. And they also see in each other’s differences the complements to their own humanity, which needs help and companionship to fulfill its purpose.

But we know what happens from here. Soon, the two human beings—the partners—set out to live in a world where one type of human being rules over the other. Instead of seeing two types of human being created both from each other and for each other, they see one type of human being as superior, and the other as less-than-human and disposable.

It’s not always that bad. Not in every family. Not in every faith community. But so much of the world lives with this sense of some human beings as less human and less valuable than others. It’s in the hard-hearted followers of Mosaic law in today’s gospel, who consign their wives to poverty with a piece of paper. It’s in some leaders of the early Christian church, who thought that Eve was created in second place, and who held Eve alone responsible for being deceived by the serpent, and who therefore argued that women shouldn’t teach men a thing about faith. And, it’s in the Taliban soldiers who tried to murder the 15-year-old girl Malala, three years ago this week, for trying to seek an education.

This sense of women as less-than-human and disposable exists in severe as well as trace forms. But whatever the degree of infection, this world outside of Eden has been corrupted by the sense of women as less-than-human in their capacity to learn, and teach, and bring the full variety of their gifts into forming partnerships, families, and / or communities that model divine love. This sense infects a lot of hearts and minds, and harms a lot of spirits and bodies. And it’s this sense of one segment of humanity as less-than-human, and disposable, that Jesus confronts in today’s gospel passage when he repeats: “God made them male and female . . . they are . . . one flesh.”

With these words, Jesus tries to restore humanity to that moment in the Garden of Eden from today’s first reading. That moment when one human being recognizes a different human being as fully human: “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” And in that moment of recognition, the two enter a partnership that enriches the humanity of each. Because we need each other. Because it’s not good to be alone.

When Jesus teaches the Pharisees about marriage and divorce, he doesn’t give them new laws so much as a new perspective. His teachings about marriage and divorce reflect the reality that, from the beginning, human beings were created from each other and for each other. We are created to recognize each other’s humanity and to reach out to one another for help and partnership. And we can’t dissolve our relationships with each other without irreversible harm and pain. That’s the harsh reality of being creatures who were made for each other, who were made for love.

As much as it can hurt, that’s the reality we enter when we receive the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God isn’t necessarily a place where love always lasts a lifetime, or where righteousness depends on our perfect fulfillment of the marriage laws or gender roles of our own time and place.

In fact, as today’s gospel passage continues, it turns out that we don’t receive the kingdom of God as men or women, as husbands or wives, but as children in search of a blessing. As children who don’t yet know what differences matter, or make them less worthy, in the eyes of the world. The kingdom breaks into our lives too, in those moments of recognition when we see those who differ from us as fully human, as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. As created by God to form loving partnerships, to enrich our lives by their differences, to receive the blessing of Jesus Christ no matter who tries to hinder them.

Sometimes, the Garden-of-Eden encounter between Adam and Eve sounds like a story of love at first sight between the world’s perfect match. (Or, the world’s only match.) But really, it’s the story about the first children of God, who received God’s garden as a gift, who saw in each other a different but full human being, and who formed a partnership they needed to survive in this world. And we, their distant children, are still learning, with Christ’s help, how to enter God’s kingdom by recognizing the full humanity of all people, and weaving together with them a society that doesn’t cast off anyone.

It isn’t good to be alone. We need help. We need to know, like the first human beings, that the creatures who differ from us are part of us, and belong to us, and can never be severed from us without sin and pain.

But the kingdom of God is here. Here in those moments of recognition of the full humanity of others. Here in the formation of partnerships that help us all. And here in the indiscriminate welcome of Jesus to receive his blessing as children.