Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrew 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
This Sunday, the readings help us to understand why Jesus teaches about marriage as a lifelong commitment. The readings focus on Christian marriage as a permanent union in God's original purpose. That sounds contradictory to the popular view of society. Marriage today is described as a fragile institution in our society. Divorce rates today are around 40% with divorce among Catholics reaching around 20%. In the Gospel, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife (“send her away”). Jesus responds by asking them about what the law said, and they quote Deuteronomy 4:1), which allowed a husband to divorce his wife by simply writing a bill of divorce. (cf Matt. 1:19). Then Jesus responds by quoting two sayings from two creation accounts of Genesis: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27), and “the two of them become one flesh” (in today’s first reading). In this passage, the first century Jewish law seems to have favored divorce, but in actual practice divorce was not that common. Therefore, the point of Jesus in the Gospel is not so much an attack on a widespread practice, but an affirmation of the life-long nature of marriage as well as a prophetic challenge that refers to God’s creative purpose.
The first reading shows that God established marriage at the beginning of creation for two essential purposes: unity of the married couple (the two shall become one flesh) and their mutual interdependence. In other words, neither man alone nor woman alone contains the fullness of God’s creative design, but man and woman in union with each other. Jesus therefore views marriage, in which man and woman are no longer two but one, living in unity and interdependence, as a symbol of restored creation. Therefore there is an integral connection between mutual love and procreation in marriage. Under the new Law of love divorce destroys the original purpose of God in creation: “the two become one flesh”. Marriage as a permanent union is founded on the value of unity that continually offers support to its permanence. This teaching on the permanent character of Christian marriage is inspiring to some, while painful for others in today’s society. There is no marriage without moments of tears. Differences, conflict and misunderstanding will always be there. In a lasting marriage there are always moments of self sacrifice for the other. At times there is frustration and disappointment. At the end of the day what preserves the permanence of marriage is the determination to stay together, “for better for worse.” The very fact that some marriages manage to survive so many difficulties and rough seas is a miracle only brought about by prayer and the willingness to forgive and to be forgiven. What message do we take home? 1) Jesus teaches that marriage is a permanent union in God's original purpose. 2) Marriage has a character of permanent union precisely because it is founded on the value of unity: “the two become one flesh”. 3) In the rocky moments married life what saves it is the desire to nourish married life through prayer, mutual self-giving, forgiveness and reconciliation. May we also remain close in prayer and support for members of our parish who experience the pain of broken marriages and family life.
©2018 John S. Mbinda