October 7, 2018

GOD CREATED ONE HUMANITY

BIBLE READINGS
Genesis 2:18-25
Mark 10:2-16

REFLECTION

The creation story from Genesis has often been used to justify the view that women are inferior to men. In the story, the woman was created from the man. As such, the woman must be inferior to the man because she was made from him. This kind of interpretation has had some serious consequences throughout the history. It encouraged the idea that women were the lesser creatures thus could be treated as men pleased.

There is a book that was published during the period of witch hunting in Europe in 15th century. It was called Malleus Maleficarum and it was a manual for dealing with women accused of witchcraft. The book considers women as the ‘weaker sex’ and thus easily fall prey to the temptation of the devil. It says:

“... it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.”[1]

If I read this to my wife, my marriage will be in serious trouble.

But to read the story in Genesis like this is to falsely read the story. In Genesis, we are told that the man couldn’t find a suitable companion amongst the animals. We can imagine that God paraded the birds and the giraffes and the lions and the dogs and the cats before the man. But the man couldn’t find a suitable companion amongst them. (Yes, even the dos and the cats did not meet the first man’s criteria!) In other words, the man couldn’t find his equal amongst the animals.

So, God created the woman out of the man’s rib. In other words, the woman was created out of the man himself. The woman was not someone else. She and the man shared the same bone and flesh. They were one. They were the same. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary of the whole Bible makes this beautiful comment about this passage in Genesis. It says:

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam;
not made out of his head to rule over him,
nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him,
but out of his side to be equal to him,
under his arm to be protected,
and near his heart to be beloved.” 

In his book, Symposium, the great Greek philosopher, Plato, tells a story about the origin of humanity. In the story, human being was originally an androgynous creature. It had two faces, four hands, and four legs. But Zeus, the leader of the gods, was so threatened by the power of the human that he cut the human into halves.

And the two halves were so miserable after the separation. Each always looked for the other half. For Plato, love and companionship are thus about the desire and longing to get back to one’s original self. He says,

“Love is born into every human being;
it calls back the halves of our original nature together;
it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”[2]

I think this is the original intention of the creation story in Genesis. The man would always be looking for his missing part. He longed to be reunited with the “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.”[3] He could only find fulfilment in the woman and vice versa.

So, there is nothing in this creation story in Genesis that suggests that the woman was inferior to the man. The story in Genesis is a story about companionship and compatibility, not about superiority or inferiority. Even in Hebrew, the original language of Genesis, the words for the man and the woman are similar.[4]

So, God created both man and woman as equal beings. And this equality between the man and the woman is beautifully summarized in the final verse of our reading. It says that the man and the woman were naked, but they were not ashamed.

Indeed, when we are naked, we bare everything. There is nothing to hide when we are naked. In a healthy marriage, not to be ashamed in the presence of our partner while naked is thus about trust. It is about being safe to be vulnerable in the presence of the other. One important aspect of a healthy marriage is one partner’s ability to protect the other in vulnerable moments.[5]

This vulnerability was the aspect that Jesus talked about when he was challenged by some Pharisees. In Jesus’ time, marriage was not only about romantic love. In a patriarchal society where Jesus lived, marriage was created so that the husband could provide for the wife. In a sense, in Jesus’ time, marriage worked as a kind of social safety net.

Without a husband, a widow or a female divorcee would be extremely vulnerable. For many women and children in Jesus’ time, a divorce was a matter of life and death.

In the Bible, widows were considered as some the most vulnerable groups (besides the orphans and the foreigners). You may remember the story about Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, in the Bible. Both became widows in Moab. So, they travelled all the way back to Israel not only to find work, but also to find a husband for Ruth. The travel was found to be necessary because, if they hadn’t done so, they may have perished in Moab.

So, Jesus’ major concern was a woman’s welfare after a divorce. For a woman in his time, a divorce could bring her and her children to the brink of poverty or even starvation.

The situation for the wives in Jesus’ time was made worse by their lower status in the Jewish law. The Roman law allowed either the husband or the wife to divorce his/her spouse.[6] But the Jewish law only allowed the husband to divorce his wife.

So, if we look deeper, Jesus’ main concern was not about divorce per se. His main concern was about the inequality that severely disadvantaged the women in his society. He didn’t talk about divorces that were caused, for example, by severe domestic violence. What he forbade was the practice that treated women like goods and chattels that could be discarded on a whim.

So, friends, God created humans, male and female, not so that one can lord over the other. God created humans, male and female, so that we can be companions to one another. We are co-workers with the task to care for God’s creation.

Let us begin to reflect our true nature as companions in this world that God has created. Let us start here, in this house of God. Let us treat all people, males and females, with the respect and dignity that each deserves as God’s own image.

Amen. 
Toby Keva

[1] James Sprenger and Henry Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, Section1, Question VI (1486 CE) http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/mm/ in Juliana Claassens, Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, on Workingpreacher website (October 7, 2018). 

[2] Plato, Symposium, (360 BCE) http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html, 27 in Juliana Claassens, Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, on Workingpreacher website (October 7, 2018).

[3] Genesis 2:23.

[4] See Footnote (a) of Genesis 2:23 in Contemporary English Version of the Bible.

[5] Juliana Claassens, Commentary on Genesis 2:18-24, on Workingpreacher website (October 7, 2018).

[6] See Footnote (a) of Mark 10:12 in Contemporary English Version of the Bible.