27 SUNDAY B 2012
A young bride and groom. What is it that they want to say to each other and the world? They want to say “forever.” When we abide in love, our hearts reach to the infinite. There is something that draws us beyond ourselves in such holy desire.
Yet marriages fail. You’d think that fact alone might tame our dreams of forever. Courtship, said a sage, is dreaming happy dreams together and a good marriage is bringing them down to earth and watching them come true.
Have you ever met an engaged couple who wanted to give their futures to each other “till it doesn’t work out, till you get sick, till you go broke, till you break down.”
What is it about us that wants to say “forever”? To say “eternally”? To say “till the end of time”? There is a holy longing to love like God.
The teaching of Christ that we hear on divorce is found not merely here in Mark's Gospel. One can also discover it in the Gospel of Luke and, for emphasis, two different times in Matthew. Some may wish that Jesus did not speak so strongly or definitively about this but He did. And St Paulclearly understood that point, for he underlines the prohibition in his own letters.
Jesus was given a test by the Pharisees. Jesus digs down to the well of our hearts’ desires. “They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore let no one separate what God has joined.” It seems so clear and fast and abrupt. It seems even cruel to some who hear it. And surely painful. But isn’t this always true with matters of love? Would any of us, willingly entering an exclusive relationship, settle for less?
If we do not hear a homily as good news leading to thanksgiving and hope, it means that we are missing something essential in the text or context of the gospel passage. In the present passage, the point is not that Jesus is making a more severe law about marriage, but that he is continuing to proclaim the good news of God's kingdom. This central proclamation of Jesus' mission means the possibility of a new kind of human existence for those who accept God's reign, a grace to live in the Spirit, including men and women who enter marriage.
William J. Bausch suggests that we recall the times in which Jesus lived. His was a society in which women rarely, if ever, owned property and had no independent means of making a living. Marriage guaranteed support for the most vulnerable members of society, women and children. For their protection, marriage had to be stable and enduring. Laws forbidding divorce indicated that women and children should not be left on their own. In criticizing those who advocated divorce, especially for frivolous reasons, Jesus was taking up the cause of the poor and the weak. “He was,” says Bausch, “not once-and-for-all condemning divorced persons, but he was coming down squarely on the side of the defenceless. ‘Don’t do that to women!’ is his stern message.” With this background, we can understand Jesus’ words not as condemnation, but as an expression of compassion.
Everyone here is aware of the alarming statistics on divorce. One third of all marriages are ending before the divorce judge. Some feel that percentage is too conservative. But, in any case, these are no longer academic numbers, for most of us have family members who are divorced.
In Joseph Donder's words, we have all witnessed too often in marriage: "hopes not fulfilled, prayers not heard, efforts in vain, promises unrealized, frustration, disaster, a curse instead of a blessing, death instead of life."
Many marriages are not lifelong. When approached with this reality, Jesus did not enter into debate about the lawfulness of divorce. Rather, he focused on marriage as a divinely ordained union, as did the Genesis authors. From the very beginning men and women are united as one person. The ancient author portrays man as openly acknowledging the value of the woman with the triple enunciation “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called ‘woman’ ” Given their divinely ordained complementary relationship, the union of married persons is understood to be fitting and intended for the fulfillment of the two as one flesh. While sexuality is an important aspect in a marital union, it is not the only means of expressing oneness. It is sadly amazing how evil is able to totally distort good. The divinely created attraction of men and women to image God has been deformed into a drive to selfish gratification. Sex is portrayed by the media as having little to do with love and mostly concerned with debauchery. This week on Hastings street, I saw a man wearing a T-shirt, that shocked me. I can’t publicly express the message that was printed across his chest. Blatant abusive attitude toward women. I was in my car, so I had a good excuse for not confronting him. He was a big man!
Men and women differ from the animals in that it is the search for communion that draws them together, not the impulse of carnal, uncontrollable and blind instinct. Your sacrament, marriage, is not just a blessing of two individuals. It is the creation of a new reflection of the Love of God on earth.
Two in one flesh! Couples bond to channel their growing love toward the service of God and others, toward their children, their elders, the poor, the future and the betterment of society. Understood in this way, married persons and their children can truly be the nucleus that society needs to grow into a caring compassionate community. Today on Thanksgiving week-end family life is celebrated as we gather around the table of gratitude and freindship.
To break this unity, to upset this dynamic balance would introduce disorder into God’s work. “But there is disorder,” the Pharisees say to Jesus in the Gospel reading. The Law of Moses, after all, permitted a bill of divorce. “This was not the Father’s intention,” Jesus replies. Jesus regularly calls us to the ideal, rather than the accommodations we often make. “Love one another as I have loved you.” He challenges the Pharisees to aim at the original plan of God, even though the law allowed for divorce.
Although the social context of Jesus’ day no longer exists, his message of compassion and his desire to protect the weak and defenceless continues to apply. Whether married or divorced, whether gay or straight, all people are cherished creations of God. Whether or not each is able to sustain a lasting relationship with another is not a reason to judge or condemn them. On the contrary, like Jesus, we are to be compassionate, trusting in the good consciences of others and respectful of the difficult decisions they have to make. To not welcome those who are most in need of the support of the faith community would be contrary to the example set by Jesus.
But what if you today find yourself divorced, isolated, or left without your beloved because of death? What if your spouse and you do not get along? Do everything you can. We all fall short of the ideal of Christian Discipleship, but may our shortcomings never keep us from striving toward the ideal: “Love one another as I have loved you.”