Friday, October 06, 2006
Divorce and the Dignity of Women
Reflection on the first readings of the Sunday liturgy
By Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk
God's plan of loving providence
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), Genesis 2:18-24.
This is where our Sunday reading begins. To grasp the meaning of what follows, it is important to remember that in the world in which these various accounts of creation were set down, women were generally regarded as inferior beings, a kind of lower creature, often looked on as property.
As our reading proceeds, we see that the man that God has created is not really complete when he is alone. He needs a partner. So God creates all kinds of living creatures and puts the man in charge of them, but it's not enough. No bird or wild animal was enough to make man complete.
So God creates woman. First God puts Adam to sleep so that he will not witness the mysterious creative process that God engages in. God makes woman out of Adam's rib to demonstrate that she is of the same nature and dignity as he is, equal to man in the very basics of his humanity. In woman, man encounters another self, a self for whom future men would move away from the most basic familiar relationships - his father and mother - and give himself to something deeper and better, to a union in which the origin of woman from man's body is expressed again as the two of them become one flesh.
These verses of Genesis have been chosen for this Sunday's first reading because their conclusion is quoted by Jesus in the Gospel (Mark 10:2-16) as He disputes with the Pharisees about the permissibility of divorce. Man and wife are not really two beings, Jesus says, but one.
Jesus' point is that allowing either man or woman to walk away from a marriage into which either has entered is simply wrong. Granted, there may be circumstances in which the two should not live together, but, because of the nature of man and woman, because of the nature of their marriage relationship, they cannot simply undo the relationship they have entered.
In Jesus' time, as well as in the time that the material that became Genesis was written, divorce was simple and easy. For practically any reason whatsoever, a man could dismiss his wife and marry another. She didn't count for very much. She was easily replaceable.
Both Genesis and Jesus teach that such an attitude is unacceptable to the Lord. Woman was not to be looked on as a throw-away product. She was of the same nature, the same dignity, the same worth as man. Once they joined in marriage, they were indivisibly one.
Over the years, indeed, over the centuries, the dignity of woman has not always been appropriately recognized. For most of human history the teaching of these two readings has been quite countercultural, in disaccord with the standard practices of the world in which they were proclaimed.
Still today, in many parts of the world, women are looked upon as property, to be disposed of when they no longer seem useful. In the church, as well as in the society in which we live, women have not always been given the respect that the words of Scripture seem to demand for them. This suggests that the teaching of this Sunday's readings are not only relevant to our time and our culture but are absolutely essential for it if we are going to live according to the will of God.