Our true nature
Today’s readings: Genesis 2, 18-24; Hebrews 2, 9-11; Mark 10, 2-16.
The statement in today’s gospel that Moses had allowed something simply because the people were un-teachable is very intriguing, to say the least. In his dispute with the Pharisees on the proper interpretation of the law on a practical matter, Jesus indicates the roots of violence in us, particularly when we become alienated from our true selves.
He questions the way the Pharisees legitimised divorce due to men’s patriarchal mindset and reality, and reminds them that in the original nature of things God did not create patriarchy but people as male and female human beings. When we distance ourselves from that nature and from this truth, we actually end up being divided people. Jesus suggests that the Genesis covenant takes precedence over the Mosaic statute.
For centuries, harmony between what the Scriptures proclaim and the cultural models of behaviour was possible to the extent that we considered those models as absolute.
Many basic concepts relating to marriage, family and love seemed to have a fixed meaning whatever the changing scenarios. But today we feel at a loss because these concepts no longer say the same things to all and everywhere and we no longer speak the same language on such matters that matter.
In the past we could lay our ethics on solid foundations. Today ethics have become far less certain and far more complex. In our era, morality rests with the individual, alone again with his or her choices, and no longer able to depend on old certainties. In the absence of convincing external anchors, we need solid ground where to put our feet.
The Scriptures demand discernment between the truth of salvation and scientific truths, or the truth of facts. They were not written to serve as history books or as a source of scientific information. The truth of Scripture, as Vatican Council II states, is a truth of salvation, not a scientific truth. We need to distinguish between these two levels: that of the truth of salvation and that of historical, cultural models.
Scripture always provides the prophetic key in whatever it proclaims. Strictly speaking, Jesus in the gospel is not at all concerned with regulating divorce. His concern is that love is fulfilling, indissoluble not because it is regulated by law but because basically it is a calling.
Whatever is binding in terms of law can easily be enslaving. It is only law that works with the unteachable. Only what binds us from the inside, what transpires from our calling, can be truly liberating.
The first reading from Genesis spells out a truth that God has put in human nature itself: it is not good for man to be alone. Contrary to this, life has become privatised today in far-reaching ways and privatisation has promised and brought over with it many liberations.
Zygmunt Bauman, one of the world’s foremost philosophers, says that this privatisation has eroded our capacity to think in terms of common interests and fates. The escape from the constraints and impositions of community seems to influence heavily our behaviour today.
The one basic truth in the Gospel which suffers no corrosion with time is that every law is made for man. The golden rule hence remains always to listen not just to what people have to say but to who people are in their expectations, desires, aspirations.
The more we are in touch with the inner self, the deeper is our understanding of human nature and the more we are in a position to treat with dignity all those we come across.
There is truth in the words of Max Frisch, a Swiss playwright and novelist, when he writes that now we can do what we want and the only question is what do we want?
At the end of our progress we stand where Adam and Eve once stood: all we are faced with now is the moral question. That question cannot be avoided and it cannot be escaped. Yet, as Jesus demonstrates, it cannot be simply resolved through law. Back to basics here means back to our true nature.