Sunday, October 4, 2009 - Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time[Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16]
God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together no human being must separate.
I have never been married, so I've never been divorced. I have had the experience of close friends and family members getting a divorce. As a preacher I find myself in considerable discomfort when Jesus' teaching about marriage and divorce appears in the lectionary. I know that inevitably there will be people in the congregation who are going through or have been through a divorce. I know there will be children and friends of these people present as well! As a pastor I have listened to the stories of those who are in troubled marriages. In addition to all of this, one of my ministerial "sidelines" for many years has been service on the matrimonial tribunals of the church which deal with petitions for annulment of marriage. Even if an annulment is a theological statement about the failure of a couple to establish a true bond of marriage, I cannot help but feel that I am contributing (even when the situation is very clear) to the separation that Jesus preached against! When the opportunity arises for me to prepare a couple for the sacrament of marriage, I do my best to get them to discuss in depth the various challenges that will come their way. I especially hope that they will see their commitment as a matter of faith and not just a matter of attraction! I hope that they will not be too tainted by the way our culture has turned marriage into a kind of relativized consumer item open to anyone who wants to obtain it. Otherwise, when things don't "work out" they "bail out." The extreme individualism that characterizes our national social compact makes it very difficult for people to make the necessary sacrifices that are part of a healthy and "successful" marriage. The sacrament of marriage is created by the consent of the man and woman and becomes a lifelong mutual ministry that can become a ministry to their children and an example of God's love to all in the community. When this theological dimension is missing, the bond becomes only a personal commitment without any larger context to support and encourage the couple to grow in their love for each other. Jesus' response to the Pharisees really points out that Moses took it on his own authority to give permission to divorce, but he was not acting in accord with God's plan for man and woman in marriage. The permission was given because of a "hardness of heart!" So it is clear that marital difficulties even then sought an easy way out. It appears that God's hopes are frustrated by human weakness. Jesus' teaching is clear enough. Human weakness is well known enough. The strength of good faith can sustain a marital relationship through good times and bad. I pray for all my married family and friends and all married persons. I recall the 50+ years of marriage of my parents. I pray this will be possible for every couple at whose wedding I will officiate. And I pray for all those for whom that possibility becomes an impossibility. AMEN