The Book of Genesis actually contains two accounts of creation. The first account takes a bird's eye view. It is the account we are most familiar with, the one that goes through six days in which God simply spoke and created the different parts of the universe. This is the play-by-play account of creation. The second account is more like a close-up; it is the color commentary. Today's First Reading is taken from this second account of creation.
It gives us a close-up view, a color commentary, on the familiar phrase: "God created man in His own image and likeness; male and female He created them." In this close-up view of the creation of man and woman God is teaching us about one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of our human lives: our sexuality. For us to understand this aspect, we must listen carefully to what God tells us and teaches us, because the very first consequence of original sin was to disrupt proper relations between the sexes. In this fallen world, that disruption is still present, still causing confusion, pain, and problems all around us. This issue is so important, in God's eyes, that the Gospels themselves record Jesus' own commentary on this passage from Genesis. In His conversation with the Pharisees, which we just heard in today's Gospel reading, Jesus emphasizes the essential truths about our sexuality.
In today's world, where popular culture is less Christian every day, we need to be reminded of those essential truths. First of all for ourselves, to help us resist the seductions and temptations that beset us in this area. But also for the sake of those around us, who do not have the benefit of faith, of knowing God's design for human sexuality - we have to be God's messengers to them. So let's take a look at the three key truths.
The first thing God teaches us about our sexuality is that it is good; it is an intrinsic part of His design for us human beings. In the early centuries of Christianity, one of the most persistent threats to the life of the Church was heresy. Heresies were teachings that agreed with true Christian doctrine on most points, but contradicted Christ’s true teaching on one or two other, key points.
One of the most poisonous early heresies was Gnosticism. Gnosticism was dualistic; it taught that there were two gods, one good and one evil. The good god, according to the Gnostics, was pure spirit, and he created our souls. The evil god, called the Demiurge, was the source of all material things, and he had trapped our spiritual souls inside our material bodies. According to this view, everything material was evil, and only spiritual things were good. You can imagine what this heresy thought about marriage and human sexuality. They considered marriage a sin and every sexual impulse or activity intrinsically evil. Of course, they also denied the doctrine of the incarnation and the validity of the sacraments, because these too involved material things as part of God’s plan of salvation. This heresy was especially dangerous because it was used as a clever excuse to justify every kind of self-indulgence.
After all, if our bodies are just prisons for our souls, and not really connected to our true identity, then it doesn’t matter what we do with them. So the Gnostics not only forbade and despised marriage, they also gave a green light to promiscuity and every other kind of sexual indulgence. In that sense, it was similar to the view present in our own popular culture that encourages people to follow whatever their instincts tell them to follow when it comes to their sexuality.
But Gnosticism was condemned by the Church, energetically and consistently. The material world is not evil; it comes from the mind and heart of God. Our bodies and the sexuality inherent in them are not evil; they are part of who we are as human beings created out of love in God’s own image and likeness. That is the first thing God wants us to understand about human sexuality: it is part of His plan for our lives, a beautiful, powerful part of his plan.
The second truth God shows us about our sexuality is that it is gender specific. When God created human beings, He created us male and female – two genders. In today’s First Reading especially, this basic, structural complementarity comes across strongly. Eve is created from Adam’s own rib –unlike all the other animals in the Garden of Eden, Eve is on the same level as Adam, sharing his own dignity. Eve is more than a pet, a thing, or an object to be used; she too is a person, created in God’s image, just as Adam is.
Adam needs this relationship with another person in order to achieve fulfillment himself. Yet, at the same time, Eve is different; she is a woman, not a man.
So, while Adam and Eve are equal in dignity, they are also complementary in gender. There is something in Eve that completes Adam, and there is something in Adam that completes Eve. This complementarity is recognizable by all of us – we all experience it in the natural attraction we feel for members of the opposite sex – but it is also somewhat mysterious. In recent decades, psychological and developmental studies have tried to shed some light on this complementarity. They have identified complementary characteristics on the level of biology, emotion, cognition, and even chemistry, yet the full explanation still defies science – it goes deeper, even into the spiritual realm.
The third essential truth God wants to communicate to us about our sexuality is what we are supposed to do with it. The first two truths had to do with what our sexuality is. This one has to do with how we are supposed to live it out. Sexual intimacy, in God’s plan, has a real, specific purpose: it is meant to be a language of love between spouses. In other words, it is a form of communicating and mutual self-giving that is proper only within marriage – a life-long commitment between a man and woman open to forming a new family.
This is what is meant when Genesis tells us: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” Just in case we don’t understand it completely, Jesus emphasizes that this union of spouses is exclusive and permanent – it is a lifelong commitment and adventure between one man and one woman: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” The two become one: marriage is between one man and one woman. They are one flesh: it is a union of persons, a bond that cannot be broken or undone unless one of the two dies, just as the child who comes forth from this union cannot be “undone.”