Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.
God has given us a great deal of freedom. That much is clear in the descriptions of God’s activity in the first three chapters of Genesis. You may eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden, God told Adam, which is the biblical expression for, have at it, enjoy yourself. Of course this is not an unqualified freedom, for there is one tree forbidden to eat from: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet accounting for it all, on balance there remains a wide latitude given by God. And so the question immediately is for us: What does it mean for God to give us all this freedom? And, furthermore, we learn that in the pinnacle of His creation, God created us male and female. This is described very clearly and with emphasis by the author of Genesis. So, why did God do this? And might these two be related somehow—wide freedom along with humanity created male and female?
Let us think first about freedom. In the United States, it is quite common to hear the phrase, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That phrase originates in the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. These are called in that document “unalienable Rights,” meaning impossible to take away, and that is because these rights come from God: they are endowed by the Creator. That which comes from God mankind has no ability to remove: because to assume we did have such an ability would confuse the Order of creation—confuse the relationship between creator and creature. We the creatures live within the parameters of creation set forth by our creator God who is omnipotent (everywhere-powerful), omniscient (everywhere-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere-present). Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then, is a statement about how to live in a God-created country. It has endured for almost two hundred twenty-five years as a meaningful and inspiring expression of the human condition and freedom, and it captures an ideal that men and women have given their lives to protect and uphold.
The fully Christianized expression of the human condition and freedom is perhaps most poetically expressed in the ninety-sixth Psalm—O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth stand in awe of Him. Holiness is that condition wherein we recognize God’s presence intimately—an intimate presence in the world, an intimate presence in another person. And so, worship the Lord in the beauty of His intimate presence; let the whole earth stand in awe of Him. Awe and wonder—the technical term for which is “fear”—is the beginning of wisdom. Awe and wonder is the beginning of discipleship. Our transformation as people into more mature Christians always starts with awe and wonder at the sheer beauty of the maker of all that is, both seen and unseen—utterly transcendent in His power, knowledge and presence—impossibly close to our hearts and minds, closer to us ever than our own breath.
Our ideal state, then, is worship. And that begins in the recognition that we are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and that doing so fueled by His grace is the means to save our soul. And as an aid to that activity, an aid to our worship day in and day out, is the recognition captured in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis: that all of the other things on the face of the earth are created for mankind to help us in attaining the end of worship. “It is not good that man should be alone,” our Lord said, and it is as if He might have added, “amid all this freedom.”
And so out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air. They were formed of the same substance as Adam: the dust of the ground. So although humans and animals share an origin materially as well as in the conception of God, we both are conceived in His mind, we see the primary difference between man and animal expressed already: unlike the rest of animals, man has the ability to name the animals, that is, to reflect on their existence. Animals cannot do that, but men and women can. We can reflect on the creatures of the world, and name them, which in the ancient world is an action that involves understanding their true nature.
And the implicit teaching here is not only that we can reflect on the true nature of our fellow creatures, but that it appears that we must. We must have a constant awareness that everything around us is made by God. The Devil, on the other hand, wants us to be oblivious to this fact; or, if not oblivious, then to have the attitude of “Yes, God man everything, but that is no big deal.” And yet, it is more than a big deal, and for this reason: the only way God makes His will known to us is through creatures, preeminently through men and women. How to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness—the most fundamental dimension of His will—is primary revealed through men and women, and, as we have been reflecting all summer long, even more so, primarily through women. In Saint Mark’s gospel, all disciples are called to follow Jesus, to follow after His cross, to follow Him in being the servant of all. They are called to prepare for His death, and to watch Him in His distress. They are called to bear witness to God’s kingdom and heal through anointing with oil. And it is the men who fail at those tasks, but the women who fulfill them, from the beginning of Mark’s gospel to the last.
This is I think begins to uncover, perhaps in the deepest sense, why God made them male and female. He created us male and female to properly enjoy our freedom. Which means, learning together how to enjoy our freedom, assuming that along the way we will stumble into all sorts of errors. Saint Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and said, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” To Christ, and His disciples, we the children of Eve, being taught how to be disciples by women from the beginning of creation. Male and female created He them, to begin to properly understand what true freedom really means.