Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 7, 2018)
Today we hear Jesus’ views on marriage and divorce. The Pharisees try to trap him on the topic of divorce. Jesus asked what Moses commanded ? The Pharisees answered with what Moses permitted. Then, Jesus quoted the book of genesis and his father’s plan for the loving unity of a man and woman in what we call “matrimony.”
His father was infinitely before the Law of Moses. God’s plan in the book of genesis is for a man and woman to join in a permanent union and live as one; it is a beautiful plan. Jews found that a permanent union is not possible in all cases, but their solution was sexist and unjust. The book of Deuteronomy, presumed to be written by Moses, proclaimed that a wife could be dismissed for “something indecent.” “Something indecent” was defined by orthodox rabbis like Rabbi Hammai to be adultery. Reformed rabbis like Rabbi Hillel taught that a bad meal was sufficient grounds for “something indecent,” and divorce was permitted.
The Catholic Church teaches from genesis the beauty of matrimony and its permanent nature. The church also wisely realized that many folks are too immature at the time of their vow to make a commitment, or go to the altar with other serious defect. It teaches that all marriages are not matrimonies; that is, not all are the unions god planned. The church recognizes that with these serious flaws at the moment of the vows, there was not a matrimony, and uses the word, “annulment,” a decree indicating no matrimony occurred. The ability to marry is still possible. Of course, it was a civilly legal marriage and any children are legitimate; a civil divorce must precede the annulment process.
In Jesus’ day, only men and no women were permitted to ask for divorce in the unjust laws that viewed women as the property of men. Jesus upheld the creator’s intention to the Pharisees that “two should become one.” To his disciples he afterwards taught the sanctity of marriage and the evil of adultery for either partner. So, he also spoke against the victimization of women.
As we saw in the gospel of two Sundays ago, Jesus used children to illustrate those with low status in ancient culture. Today, he repeats the lesson, but adds that the ancient culture’s low status of both children and women is reversed in his “other world” view.
While we are on the topic of matrimony, one of the unfortunate results of the clerical culture within the church is the lack of married couples listed among the saints. Mother or father founders of religious groups, bishops and popes are leading candidates for sainthood.
Pope John Paul II recognized this and asked for something to be done. The only corrective to this situation, of which I am aware, is more humorous than corrective. The resulting correction of the Vatican’s search was to find a couple as candidates who had several children and who were, except for one, priests and religious sisters. The couples’ holiness, it seems, was that they were a couple who had celibate, God-serving children.
Sometimes, two good people are not good for each other and the union is death dealing, not life-giving. God wants life-giving unions.
May I say that my experience is much different? I have found many of you who work for the coming of God’s kingdom as married couples in a beautiful and holy way. You, like Jesus in his ministry, do not have any guaranteed results for your efforts. All that both Jesus and you hoped for, striven for, prayed to the father for, has not worked out as our Lord and you would have liked. Many of your labors bore obvious, good fruit. Apparent, not-best results do not take away from your personhood; we give our God our desire; we give God our efforts.
I firmly believe that there are many saints among you. I know, too, that you would vehemently deny this. Which only makes me smile. If you were to say: “You are absolutely right; how could anyone deny we are saints . . . At least I am?” you would have to step off the “saint wagon.” Real saints do not see themselves as saints; the name for that is humility.
A final note: curiously, loneliness is the first thing in all creation that Jesus called “not good.” Not so curiously, the church initiated celibacy and called it “God’s will.”
For that? God be blessed!