The final verse of the campfire song ‘Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again’ goes like this:
“Now poor master Adam is left holding the sack.
He wishes he’d have his ol’ rib back.
Cause’ of this story, there ain’t no more.
Cause Eve got the apple, but Adam got the core.”
I first heard that song in grade school. And somehow that line, about Adam “wishing he had his ol’ rib back” stayed with me. I suspect that anyone who has ever gone through a divorce knows that same pain. “Was it worth it, the loving? Even as it turned out wrong? Was I crazy to give my heart away like that? Why am I the one left holding the sack? S/he left me. I did it right God. I stayed by my yes. Only they didn’t. Was I crazy to keep holding on, or did I hold on for too long?” It is a tough wrestling that folks go through. I watched, painfully on the sidelines, as my older brother struggled with those questions. And you wonder, is the end of the story really one of someone gets the apple and someone gets the core?
This is not a new set of questions, is it? The scribes and Pharisees in the time of Jesus were wrestling with what to do in the aftermath of a breakup/divorce. They knew what Moses allowed – the writing of a decree of divorce. But was that really the right course? Even in a patriarchal society where women did not have any legal status, I can’t imagine the scribes and Pharisees being untouched by the struggles of relatives and friends in this regard. So their question to Jesus, I believe, even though Matthew records it as another ‘testing’ question, comes out of a place so deep, that at least on one level they really did want to know. “What do you think? What do we do? How do we handle this before God, before the spouses, before the community? Do you have any thoughts?”
So what are the thoughts of Jesus about marriage? Watch where he situates it: right in the vision of creation from the book of Genesis, where God saw how good everything was. And in that second story of creation, we hear that God saw that something was NOT good for the Adam, the earth being: To be alone. And so God works hard in creation to find a suitable partner, to provide for the fulfillment of his dream for us – to not be alone. To have someone to share the thoughts of our hearts with, our hopes and fears and even those things that in 24 hours will not make a hill of beans worth of difference. But they do in the moment. In perhaps the only poetic language you’ll find in the Code of Canon Law – marriage is defined as “an intimate communion of life and love.” In Eve, Adam not only finds bone of my bone, the strong part of the body mirroring the strength we bring to relationships, but also flesh of my flesh, that which is weak within us, so we can create a world of shared vulnerability and strength. And in so finding that relationship, finds his ‘lost rib’. This is what we are invited to experience in its fullness in marriage, but really in all of relationships – with God, with each other as human beings, and with His creation.
And that is why St. Paul uses SPOUSAL imagery to talk about the relationship of Jesus to the church, and our relationship to each other in the church. Together, united with our Lord, we give ourselves to each other like a husband gives himself to his wife. That is what it means to be the church –we are a school of friendship and love. We are a place where, no matter what our marital status – single, married, divorced, widowed – someone knows our heart and story.
That is what I hope you have found, and are coming to find here in our Newman Community – a place where you can be your deepest and truest self, and have that accepted for what it is. It is what I most love about St. Ann on Sunday morning after mass, all these conversation circles 15 and 20 minutes after mass is over. Seeing that again this morning confirmed in me that desire to continue to create a world like that at the CNC where the truths of our hearts can be known.
This week, call a classmate, visit a dorm room, drop by neighbor’s house, go to wherever you sense God is calling you to be a listening ear and open heart, so that no one will be alone. Be a suitable partner in conversation, bone of bone in someone’s strength, flesh of flesh in their weakness. Prove the song wrong. Adam never wanted his rib back. He simply wanted to know the love of God in flesh and blood. Which, if you think of it, is exactly what we receive here at this altar…