What do you MEAN?

Mary Magdala Community

“What do you mean?” ©

Thoughts on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7, 2018

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

My first inclination after reading the Lectionary passages for this Sunday was to discard the lot.  The first reading from Genesis is taken from what is often referred to as the “second” creation story since there are, in fact, two distinct stories in the bible of how we began.  The story scheduled for this Sunday is the one about male dominance and the resulting subservience of women having been formed from the bone of the man.  Given the exposure of the experience of women who have been sexually assaulted that came to light in the past few weeks in our country, I passed on that reading in favor of the “first” creation story in which mutuality of male and female, diversity of all creatures, and sustainability of creation is the focus (Genesis 1:26-31).

I also considered discarding the reading from the Hebrews on the basis of this letter’s high Christology of Christ achieving glory only because he was “willing” to become victim for us and thereby ascend to the throne of the Most High through bloody sacrifice.  Little attention here is paid to Jesus’ main point of love.

The third reading really needed to be discarded for more reasons than we can go into here.  Suffice it to say that the notion that divorce creates perpetual states of adultery is as far removed from awareness of the human condition as is St. Paul’s advice that slaves should obey their masters.  Archaisms such as these deserve to be discarded.

However, I propose that we use these readings, in particular this Gospel passage from Mark (10:2-16) to allow us to ask the question, “What does all this mean?”  Approaching this from the perspective of meaning is to make the application of hermeneutics our task at hand.  Hermeneutics, the practice of discovering meaning and arriving at understanding, is actually a conserving procedure.  We take what is given us – in this case a teaching of Jesus on marriage, divorce, and adultery – and ask questions which, one hopes, will clarify our thinking about the teaching.  This requires us to acknowledge that our faith commitment is a dialogue with the divine.  It is neither a catechism nor a textbook.

First there is history.  I ask how it is that Salvation History, which is full of murder, mayhem, rape, adultery, and polygamy must settle on this one teaching about marriage and divorce.  Surely, our engagement with the human condition tells us that this one teaching does not settle the matter.  The divisions and disassociations which we experience in life, in marriage and out of it as well as with so many relationships that have substance and that matter, have much more to do with working out difficulties in the muddle and not on the basis of directives from on high.  It has been my experience, for example, that long-lasting marriages and partnerships happen one day at a time.  Each day requires recommitment.

Second, there is memory.  The Jesuit philosopher and theologian, Bernard Lonergan, reminds us that memory is about telling our stories to ourselves and to others over and over and over again.  And each time that story which we were so sure of before changes to reveal new memories and new truth, especially as they impact our marriages, friendships, partnerships, and all meaningful relationships.  This passage from Mark’s Gospel needs to be retold so that memory can correct it.  Perhaps, the question of divorce, when subjected to living memory, just might give way to a deeper awareness and understanding of the life, death, and new life that occurs in human relationships.  Maybe God’s guidance for some is to divide and separate.

History and memory honors our ability to interpret what we have received.  This is the way of dialogue wherein we engage in faith and in love and often come out the other side a changed person.  When it comes to this particular Gospel passage, we may probably still discard it, but for a better reason than “it’s just archaic.”


A Prayer  (JR)

Wonderful is your presence among us, Beloved Parent, enlivening Spirit.  We hear your Word in so many ways:  in courageous decisions, through declarations of love, by discovering our journeys of spirit and everyday life.

We see your Word in action as we recall memories of good deeds, just acts, and loving embraces.

We build community in your Spirit who shows us your glory in Jesus, the Anointed One.  You are God today and always.     Amen.

Litany to honor our animal companions in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi

               whose Feast Day was October 4                     

        Leader:  All creatures of this earth give glory to our Creator.   Let us proclaim glory:
All:     O God, how wonderful are your works.

Leader:     Blessed are you, God of the universe; you create the animals and us.
All:     O God, how wonderful are your works.

Leader:    Blessed are you, God of the universe; you bless our animal companions.

All:     O God, how wonderful are your works.

Presider:  Bless, All-Loving One, these companions, these creatures of your


All:           And fill our hearts with thanksgiving for their being.


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