Theme: The two shall become as one
In the course of the next few weeks, the Sunday gospels will portray Jesus embroiled in controversy with his contemporaries over issues such as commitment and discipleship. In an authentic marriage, two people live in mutual love and complementarity wherein each personality finds fulfillment and full realization on the other. Plato, the great Greek thinker of the fourth century B.C., ascribed to the legend that human beings were originally twice as big and strong as they are now. However, because their size and strength made them arrogant, the gods cut them down to half their size; only when two-matching halves found one another and complemented each other in marriage did they find true happiness. Rather than narrow life, marriage should complete and enhance it. In the mutual giving of two personalities most circumstances of life are shared making life manageable. Only a love that is willing to endure tough times can support and sustain such a unique relationship
First reading: Genesis 2:18-24
True marriage is a union of two different people, male and female endowed with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Many spouses come from vastly different cultures, countries and religious affiliations. Each marriage therefore is supposed to be enduring and monogamous with authentic deep spiritual outpouring and creative service. Marriage is influenced by religion and coherent culture. Marriage is the conviction that God has specifically created spouses to be so.
A good marriage is a legacy of love which the world continues to desire. Part of the so-called primeval history in which the ancient biblical authors offered faith-filled, mythic and poetic answers to this life’s wonder underscores the truth that: 1- Only man and woman have dominion and authority over the rest of creation. 2- The fact that human beings are not meant to be alone but are created to live in society. 3- That equality of men and women is unquestionable. God created the as suitable partner. The term sela which means rib also has affinities similar to the word life. 4- God intended that man and woman enjoy a relationship of complimentarity. This notion is evident in both Hebrew and English wherein the terms for man and woman, ish - ishah, adam - adamah, are closely related. 5- That marital union between man and woman is more profound than any other: “This is why each leaves father and mother and clings to one another and the two become one body” Genesis 2:24.
It is precisely because of the manner in which the duo were created that man and woman become one body. This union which is created and ordained by God is indissoluble though with challenges. Thus admired should be couples celebrating landmark anniversaries of 25, 50 and more. These are our heroes to whom a certain debt of gratitude is owed as they continue to prove that it is possible.
Second reading: Hebrews 2:9-11
Here is another type of covenantal union and consecration featured in this short text from Hebrews. Whereas the Genesis and Mark emphasize the covenant and consecration of human marriage, Hebrews calls our attention to the saving covenant made by Jesus with all humankind into a life of goodness. This letter was meant for Greek-speaking Jewish Christians probably in Rome around 90 A.D. From the teachings and exhortations, it appears that the community was growing lax in their faith, abandoning Christianity and slowly returning to Judaism. This seems to have been the time of Christian persecution under Emperor Domitian. Those who refused to burn incense to Domitian who had proclaimed himself Dominus et Deus/Lord and God were tortured and executed. Due to this, some Christians were tempted to return to the relative safety of Judaism, a religion tolerated as licit by Rome.
In an effort to bolster the faith, this letter was written in a form of a homily rather than a communication affirming the singular role of Jesus and the necessity of enduring faith in him. Lest the Hebrews surrender to a sense of futility and hopelessness, due to the delay of Jesus’ second coming, the author encouraged them that Christ, who had become one with them through the incarnation, would remain one with them until he ushered them into the glorious presence of God. Jesus had experienced the depths of human suffering “for a little while” Hebrews 2:9 in order that after their ‘little while’ on earth, each faithful would enjoy the redemption he had accomplished. In answer to those who were wondering whether their faith in Jesus Christ had been misplaced; they were offered the assurance that “it was fitting” Hebrews 2:10; in other words, everything in the saving mission of Jesus, his suffering as well as his glorification were a necessary part of God’s foreordained plan. Moreover, just as Christ was ‘made perfect’ through suffering, so also would those who believe in him come to perfection.
Gospel: Mark 10:2-16
Grounds for divorce, in contemporary society, vary from place to place. Some Countries permit divorce for reasons such as adultery, insanity, felony conviction and drug addiction, whereas other support none of these exceptions. In Jesus’ time, grounds for divorce also varied, not because of territorial legislation but due to differing rabbinical interpretations of the law. When the Pharisees approached Jesus, they were, in effect asking what he considered to be an acceptable ground for divorce. The law in question was expressed in Deuteronomy 24:1 which stated that if a man has taken a woman in marriage, but she does not please him because he finds ’erwat dabar in her, he may write a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house. The term ’erwat dabar meant something objectionable, offensive and indecent; but so vague as to be open to a wide range of interpretations.
The school of Rabbi Shammai, interpreted ’erwat dabar quite strictly, limiting the grounds for divorce to adultery alone. Rabbi Hillel instead enlarged the matter to include permitting divorce if a wife had put too much salt in the stew, if she danced in the streets, spoke to a strange man, spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s relatives or shouted that her voice could be heard in the next door. Rabbi Akiba pushed the envelope even further, permitting divorce if a man found another woman more appealing to him than his wife.
Rather than being drawn into the wrangling of the Pharisees by offering yet another opinion, Jesus nipped the argument in the bud by lifting it to a higher level. He explained that the text in Deuteronomy was not a law but a dispensation from the law, a concession permitted by Moses because of the sklerokardia/hardness of heart of the people cf. Mark 10:5. Rather than allowing seeking refuge within legal loopholes, Jesus challenged everyone to stay insensitive to God’s will. In typical rabbinical style, Jesus countered the question of the Pharisees with one of his own; then, continuing in the fixed form of the rabbinic dialectic, he reduced his questioners to silence. Calling on the only authority considered to be greater than Moses, meaning, God’s, Jesus underscored human marriage as a covenantal and complementary bond between two persons, a bond foreordained by God from the beginning of creation. To breach such a God-given union was therefore a violation of God’s inscrutable wondrous plan which was unacceptable.
In addition to upholding the sanctity of marriage and the God-given dignity of women, the rest of today’s gospel affirmed the rights of children, who were regarded as property belonging to their father. Jesus surprised his audience by inviting the children to come to him; he blessed them and offered them as example to all who would welcome God’s reign into their lives. Here is an indication that; only with a child-like trust and humility can the radical challenge of Jesus’ teachings be met, accepted and lived. Let us all continue learning to be true children of God.
Here is a story from folkloric literature of Europe reflecting the quality of love that marriage demands: After a long siege, the duke of Bavaria sat trapped in his castle of Weisberg. Outside the city walls, his enemy, emperor Konrad, was demanding his surrender. While the conditions of surrender were being determined, the women of Weisberg sent a message to Konrad, asking for safe passage out of the city also requesting to be allowed to take with them a few of their valuables as they could carry. Their request granted, soon the castle gates were opened and out came the women. To Konrad’s amazement, they carried no gold or jewels. Each woman was bending under the weight of her husband whom she hoped to save from the vengeance of their conqueror. Their loving stratagem proved successful and their story continues to bear witness to selfless love which constitutes a true marriage.
Marriage is one of the most fulfilling of all relationships as well as one of the most demanding. To make be requires careful continual effort and attention. Marriage is not the union of two clones but of two distinctive personalities who are continuously in search of perfection until death does them part. Two people can exist together in a variety of ways. One can be the dominant partner to such an extent that nothing matters except his/her wishes, while the other is subservient and exists only to please the other. This should never be desired because it ends up making the family live in a cold war. Marriage is not resigned tolerance of one another but the will of turning a house into a loving home.