27th Sunday Ordinary Time 10-7-18
Genesis 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6 ; Hebrews 2:9-11;Mark 10:2-16
These readings are often used to preach about the ideal marriage. Marriage is a life-long job, requiring patience, gentleness, compromise, graciousness to sometimes carry more than your half of the relationship, and maturity to weather the hard times. I have been married and divorced twice, so that is all I have to say about marriage. But this is an interesting Gospel today, and I do have a few things to say about it, for it is NOT primarily about marriage.
It is about what we will call “Legalism”. I don’t like labels, but legalism is generally defined as depending on laws rather than… faith. In Galatians 3:3, Paul writes, “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles…by…the law, or because you have heard about Christ and believe?” Another problem with legalism is that someone is always blamed. The people of CACINA say that we “are Catholic without the guilt”. What if we could approach issues without finding fault? “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:1
Jesus and the disciples leave Galilee for the last time on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus has spent time on the road privately teaching his disciples, and discussing his upcoming death. Their public ministry begins again now, and the Pharisees arrive from Jerusalem in an attempt to justify their plot to kill him. They are “testing him;” Mark uses the same word he used in Chapter One, when Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and enduring “testing” by Satan. He is clear that the Pharisees’ intent is evil.
The topic of divorce was a minefield for the Jews. If Jesus denied the legality of divorce, he will sin by contradicting the Law of Moses. If he tried to make divorce a morality issue, he will be following in John the Baptist’s footsteps. John was beheaded by Herod for that approach. Various groups of Rabbis had positions on if only men could ask for a divorce, the acceptable grounds for divorce, and so forth & so on, endlessly. The Pharisees thought for sure they could trap Jesus in this web of opinion; surely Jesus would offend someone.
Jesus responds to their question about divorce by asking “What did Moses command you?” Moses tolerated divorce as an existing custom for the purpose of stabilizing the community. But God said in our first reading, that two people are to “become one flesh.” Jesus, Moses, and the Pharisees all understood that God’s command did not include divorce. Once again, Jesus defeated the Pharisees’ ploy by using the Scriptures to prove their question was not sincere, only a political trick. But that left the disciples riled up about the issue of divorce. They later privately ask Jesus, and he simply states a fact: “whoever divorces their spouse and marries another, commits adultery.”
Is Jesus throwing us under the bus? About 35-40% of all Americans who have been married are divorced. If you have read the Gospels, Jesus never throws any sincere person who comes to him under the bus! Read Mark 2:17: “Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners.” Are we not aware of the times Jesus outright forgave the sins of people? In Luke (19:10) Jesus said: “For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” And in John 12: 47, “If anyone hears me and does not obey me, I am not his judge—for I have come to save the world and not to judge it.” We always start each Mass with, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” There is great power in those words! In Mark 3:28-30, Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, all sins and blasphemes will be forgiven … (except) blasphemes against the Holy Spirit.”
So here it is: Jesus said that divorce is wrong, and forgiveness is waiting for all who confess and repent. It doesn’t seem like a secret to me! In fact, I think the voice that accuses any divorcee of committing a sin that denies them the sacraments, is the voice of evil. Jesus responds to that voice in John 10:10: “(Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Revelation 12: 10-11 says it again, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers (and sisters) has been thrown down… And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb…”
Jesus even stopped those who would stone a woman “caught” in adultery, with these words: “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” Jesus makes clear that adultery is a sin, but forgiveness is freely given.
All in all, our reading is another trap for Jesus to deny God or the Scriptures, set by men who already have decided to break God’s law themselves by killing Jesus. This time the issue chosen to bait the trap is divorce. But Jesus prevails by knowing Scripture and knowing what his mission is.
Marriage is one sign of the social nature of humans in which the “two shall become as one.” Another sign is the Eucharist, for as Paul says in Romans 12:5: “We, though many, are one body in Christ…” Fr. Gerald Darring wrote, “Marriage and Eucharist are signs of sharing lives and living (in unity). The unity of humankind is shattered every day by the evil of injustice: racism, sexism, poverty, hunger, homelessness, war. We are constantly violating the fundamental principle: ‘Let no man separate what God has joined’. God has joined us in a society of brothers and sisters because it is not good for us to be alone: let no one separate that society through injustice.”
Law will never unify us, but love will. I said last week, that Jesus was always making the circle larger, always including people that were different, who had experiences unlike the others. He did not make laws and rules to bring those people together, but taught them to love God and love their neighbors like themselves. “Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor 13:13)