08 October, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - Woman's dignity in creation



Genesis 2:18-24
‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ (Genesis 2:18).
The creation of Eve - Monreale Cathedral Italy
Today the lectionary presents us with a short passage taken from the second account of creation. Here man and women are created at different times, Adam first and Eve later, and it would be easy to interpret woman’s creation as an afterthought or a somehow optional add on to man. It would be too easy, in fact, and many Biblical commentators have unfortunately gone down this route; more unfortunately still, their interpretations could lead into serious errors even to the point of providing the theological basis for unjust discrimination between men and women. Indeed, this passage from Genesis has been misinterpreted and misused many times in the history of our faith often in order to put women down, to put them in their place, as it were, somewhere beneath men.
So this morning, let us redress the balance by doing a little Bible study together and let us look at two simple questions; What? and Why? is being created by God as he says, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’

What?
What is being created here? The word used in our translation is “helpmate” – a word that is a corruption of the original English translation, and it may easily speak of a subservient role for woman as something a like an assistant or a subordinate. Yet, if we looked up this verse in the King James Version we would read this, ‘I will make him an help meet for him’. “Help meet” rather than “helpmate” – something that is “meet” is something that is “worthy” and “suitable” of man; not someone inferior to man, but someone on equal footing to man, someone of the same dignity.
That’s the second half of our word done. But I guess there is still a problem in seeing the creation of woman as a “help” to man. The word used here in the original text is ezer and it is used in other places in the Bible to mean – listen to this – “saviour” and “rescuer”, and in more than half of its uses it refers to God. For example Psalm 46 says that God is “help” to his people, much in the same way that Eve is to Adam. This psalm says,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
In every case ezer, the help, is a figure more powerful that those who are being helped, but it seems that most Bible interpreters decided that in the case of Eve, the help must have been someone inferior. So, what is being created here? A “helpmate”. But the truer meaning of this word is “a helper as Adam’s fitting partner”, in a sense a co-worker.

Why?
Why is the helpmate created? Why was there need of one? The obvious answer would be to relieve Adam of his aloneness in creation, since we read ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’, but we mustn’t think of this as a selfish reason. As we see in our reading, up until the creation of Eve, Adam is alone in the garden, the only one of his kind; he is surrounded by beauty without measure, but has no one to share that beauty with, someone who would appreciate it and contribute to it with him.
But there is another point I would like to make in terms of why woman was created. Up until the time in which Eve is formed, the Scriptures describe Adam not so much as a male, but rather as a human, in a gender neutral way. It is only after Adam finds Eve that he is described as a “man”, a biological male, and Eve as a “she”, a biological female. So in a sense, it is only when Adam is confronted with Eve, with the one person who is equal to him and yet so different, with the one who makes him complete, it is at that moment that he becomes truly himself, and he is able to see himself for what he is.
So, why is the helpmate created? Just to relive loneliness? No, Eve comes in to complete creation and human creation in particular.

‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’
The story of the creation of man and woman may not contain much biological or scientific detail, but this was not its purpose. The creation story is there to tell us about relationships – the relationship between God and his creation, and between men and women. There is no negative language here about women; any such interpretation is just that, an interpretation driven by discriminatory agendas of the interpreters.

The lesson we ought to take from this short passage then, is twofold. As a general point, we must learn not interpret the Bible in order to justify our prejudices. But also, following what is said about Adam, we must not assume that we are totally and wholly complete within ourselves, but we need to be open to others to complete us – particularly to the one person who is able to complete us and help up see both the world and ourselves in their truer light.

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