27 SUNDAY B 2021
Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
A young bride and groom. What is it that they want to say to each other and the world? They want to say “forever.” 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 no longer excite me?” If you heard those words from your fiancée who claims to love you, you would not want to invest too much in that relationship. Even a couple where each comes from parents with failed marriages are drawn to something more, something different. They are drawn to believe that their love is special, yes that their love is divine and therefore certain. Do not each of us have a holy desire to love like God in whose image we have been created? Yes “love one another as I have loved you!”
Yet marriages fail. Everyone here is aware of the alarming statistics on divorce. 40 % of all marriages in Canada are ending before the divorce judge. These are no longer academic numbers, for most of us have family members who are divorced. You’d think that fact alone might caution the 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.” 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. With the great number of failed marriages, some may wish that Jesus did not speak so strongly or definitively about this, but He did. Let us be clear that Jesus is never standing in judgement or condemnation, but he is constantly inviting us to follow his example of total love even to the cross.
Jesus was given a test by the Pharisees about this ideal on the one hand and the reality of sin and human weakness on the other. 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 especially cruel to those who have experienced the pain of separation. Yet, would any of us, willingly entering an exclusive relationship, settle for less?
This is a homily sharing the “good news”, the gospel. 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 in the context of the gospel passage. Is Jesus making a more severe law about marriage? Or is he proclaiming God’s special plan and desire of those created in his image? The scripture says that God has predestined us to be holy and spotless. This central proclamation of Jesus’ mission means that yes, with the grace of God alive in the minds and hearts of a Christian couple, it is not impossible to love like God: intimately, with a self-sacrificing love, creatively, and eternally. It is not impossible to be a sacrament, a sign, of God’s love for your children and for the world.
But does this mean that the path from your marriage date to death is ever steady and straight. I think not. I think not, for each couple and every marriage. Why? Because every human person experiences the deficiencies in oneself and in one’s partner. We hunger for perfect intimacy. We hunger for oneness yet experience weakness and separation. We always fall short of that which will satisfy the longing of our hearts. There is a saying, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” Once again what St. Augustine shouts out, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God who is perfect.”
But Carol Bruess, a social scientist, says you don’t have to be a relationship expert to know when something isn’t quite right in your marriage. “If your union isn’t one in which humor comes easily; isn’t one in which your partner’s idiosyncrasies are still (at least a little bit) endearing; or isn’t one in which your emotional needs are being met, perhaps you’re in a lonely marriage.” But is that not an oxymoron: a lonely marriage? But is the restlessness that St. Augustine perceived only symptomatic of single people. I think not. In fact, lonely marriages are real. In fact, many may say it’s worse being lonely in a marriage than it is being lonely by yourself. Being in a lonely marriage doesn’t mean you’re physically excluding your partner from your life, but you’re emotionally excluding them from your thoughts. While you two may talk, you’re not communicating your hopes, fears, and dreams. You might not be arguing or yelling or showing any obvious signs of disharmony; quite often, you’re not fighting at all, because you’ve found it’s just easier not to.
But if we relate it to our spiritual life, we all feel separated or distant from God at times, and perhaps often. What does it mean? Does it mean that God does not love me or that I have broken my relationship with God? We know that is not true. So also, being in a lonely marriage doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner, or your spouse does not love you. However, the emotional distance between you has increased to the point that your love is lacking an essential intimacy — a tenderness of words, actions, and thoughts. A type of gentleness you know is possible because it was that gentleness which attracted you to each other in the first place.
We know that we hunger for oneness. And we know also that oneness is not luck but hard work. Oneness with God takes awareness, being awake in the present moment. Being alert to the beauty and revelation of God in one another, in contemplation, in nature. Being a person of prayer, “Raising your mind and heart to God.” How much also must a person be present to his/her spouse? Alert to the beauty and revelation of love who is God in the other? In awe and standing grateful before 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: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called ‘woman’ ” 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. Family is the nucleus that society needs to grow into a caring compassionate community. 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.
Whether married or divorced, whether gay or straight, all people are cherished creations of God. Whether or not each of us is able to sustain a lasting relationship with another is not a reason to judge or condemn. 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, may our shortcomings never keep us from striving toward the ideal: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Indeed, we are loved by Christ in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. We are honored. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” John 13:1
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