Over the past 20 months or so, the pandemic has caused us to have to make a lot of ‘adjustments’ to the way we do things; weddings were particularly effected, with many couples having to drastically modify their plans. In a sense though, it provided an opportunity what is at the heart of the rite of matrimony; to see what is truly essential, important and necessary.
Our readings today, particularly the Gospel and first reading, deal with marriage; it is from these readings among others, that the Church receives her understanding of what marriage is all about, particularly as a Sacrament, and what Church teaching is based upon. But as with every passage of Scripture, there is always a better understanding that each of us can take from the Living Word of God that speaks to our hearts and minds and helps us better appreciate what Jesus tells us through the teachings of our Catholic faith.
Our faith tells us that the Sacrament of Marriage is lifelong; the intent when we enter into it, is to a lifetime commitment; a permanence; a covenant – that’s what the Church teaches; yet our culture of disposability questions that; even sometimes ridicules it as an outdated or old-fashioned unrealistic concept. Today we have a cultural myth that says the way to happiness and fulfilment is to do what you want, when you want; in relationships particularly, if things don’t work out the way we want them, then we can just bail out or walk away.
The Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage ask Jesus about divorce based on a ‘permission’ that was handed down by Moses; they say to Jesus ‘Moses said a man could divorce his wife given certain conditions – what do you have to say about that?’ First off, they hold Moses as the great lawgiver, so they want to see if Jesus will contradict someone who handed down most of the laws on which their whole tradition is based; their question is not so much to understand really what Jesus teaches; their question is designed to ‘trip’ Jesus up; to ridicule Jesus or discredit his teaching; to diminish his mission, and show that they know better. We see this time and again in the gospels; and we see it time and again in our society, even amongst Catholics who want Church teaching on faith and morals and the Sacraments to bend in their favour. This is the hardness of heart Jesus talks about.
The permission that the Pharisees speak of is from the book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses is trying to keep the children of Israel on track with God’s intent that they live righteous lives and remain pure and dedicated to him. But they live amongst numerous pagan cultures, cultures which embrace divorce as just another phase of relationships. The children of Israel, even after all that God has done for them, show their hardness of heart; they say to Moses ‘we want to be like everyone else…okay, granted God has given us a lot; has blessed us abundantly, but that’s not enough.’ The truth is though, as God’s chosen people, they’re not like everybody else; but in order to diminish this demand to a lesser evil, and to give time for people to think before they act on a divorce, MOSES gives them permission.
But Jesus explains to them, it was because of their hardness of heart that Moses made this provision in the law. Jesus tells them from the beginning, reflected in our first reading from Genesis, God created man and woman for each other; that they were intended by God to be united in a complementary relationship of mutual support and self-giving and caring; the words God uses for woman in relation to man as husband and wife in this creation account are helper and partner; in the gospel Jesus reminds the Pharisees of God’s original intent in marriage between man and woman; and he reminds them, and us, that what God has united, people must not divide; He states the ideals here that God set out. He uses the little child to tell the Pharisees, and us, that it is not in hardness of heart, but in opening our hearts to trust in what God has stated time and again through Scripture and through His prophets; that’s what being childlike is all about; that accepting what God has taught in open trust and wonder like a little child is how we enter into the Kingdom – not by demanding that we can be ‘like everybody else’, or changing His commandments to suit our tastes.
As Catholics we believe that Jesus is God; and as such He knows what God intended from the beginning; He emphasizes the ideal of marriage between a man and a woman (as helpers or partners) and raises or elevates it to a Sacrament, not just a civil union or a contract. He made marriage sacred; he made it a sign which grants special graces from God; that He is present in the Sacrament of Matrimony; that’s why we celebrate the Sacrament of marriage in a Church; that’s why the Church teaches the ideal of the permanence of marriage; that’s why the Church teaches the family is sacred; and it is with the openness of a little child’s heart that Christ invites us to trust in the wisdom and the Divine intent of this teaching; He himself tells us in marriage – as in all things – what is truly essential, important, and necessary.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!