To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16
“Do you think marriage is like a lottery?” one married man asked another. “No,” replied the second, “with a lottery, you have a chance.” He went on to say, “Marriage is not a word. It is a sentence--a life sentence.”
When one hears jokes like this, the first reaction is to laugh. Yet, on further reflection, we realize that, if this is the attitude with which people approach marriage, then the question that the Pharisees ask Jesus in the Gospel text of today will be also the question in the minds of those contemplating marriage. More and more today, we hear of pre-nuptial agreements. On one hand, this kind of an arrangement might be interpreted as an agreement in which one protects oneself from unreasonable demands made by one’s spouse. However, it is also an indication that those who intend to marry are already admitting that their marriage may not last its course. They are entering into marriage with a negative frame of mind and, much like the Pharisees, focusing on law rather than on love.
This is one reason why divorces and annulments are more frequent today than they were in the past. Despite the many marriage preparation courses that are conducted for couples contemplating marriage, and despite the numerous helps that the Church offers to couples who have problems in their marriage, we have not succeeded very well in keeping couples together. The promise made at the altar, to love one another for the rest of their lives, is soon forgotten. Some, today, are not too concerned if the Church does not grant an annulment as long as they can get a divorce in the courts of law.
Another reason for the increase in divorces and annulments is connected with the allegation that Jesus makes of the Pharisees: hardness of heart. This may be translated as a closed attitude. If there is a basic lack of openness on the part of the couple, and a lack of a desire to adjust and sacrifice, then problems begin. If there is an unwillingness to let go of the ego and realize that, in true love, there is no “I,” then separation and divorce could soon follow. It is true that, in some cases, problems like dependence on alcohol, infidelity on the part of one spouse, and uncontrollable temper, which sometimes leads to wife or husband abuse, are also at the roots of the failed marriage. However, if these problems are diagnosed early in the marriage and competent counselling is sought, these may be resolved, at least in some cases. Here, it is an absolute requirement on the part of the spouse who has the problem to admit it and willingly seek the treatment necessary.
In his response to the Pharisees regarding divorce, Jesus refers back to Genesis and the purpose of the creation of the human being. In going back to Genesis, Jesus is, in effect, pointing to God’s purpose and design when God created the world. Like the author of Genesis, Jesus points to the two - the man and the woman - becoming one flesh, and thus, is saying that man and woman constitute an indissoluble unit of humankind from every perspective. Leaving one’s parents and being joined to one’s spouse is to be seen, not only in the narrow sense of sexual intimacy, but in the broader sense of being open to each other in every aspect of life. There must be no fear of exposure and no need to cover up before one’s spouse. The trust in each other is so deep that one lays, not only one’s body, but one’s mind, and heart, and will, in the body, mind, heart, and will of the other. This is because, when the man says that the woman is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”, he is highlighting mutuality, equality, and oneness. Through the creative act of God, there are bodily differences and thus, a difference in name; however, despite these differences, they are still “one flesh”.
This must be the basic understanding for any couple contemplating marriage. It is with this understanding that there is a possibility of a next generation, and a next, and indeed, the future of the world. It is in this connection that Jesus challenges the casual attitude toward marriage in his day. His response to this attitude was to go beyond the law, to love. He challenged the concession of divorce because he wanted humans to continue to be what God intended them to be. He wanted humans to live as God wanted them to live: in harmony, with each other, with nature, and with God.
A failed marriage represents a human tragedy for everyone involved. We are becoming increasingly aware of the emotional cost paid by children of divorced parents. This is possibly why the text that follows Jesus’ injunction on divorce is the one on children. The injunction of Jesus is clear “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus can give such an injunction with full conviction and authority because, as the letter to the Hebrews says in the second reading of today, he followed God’s command and law perfectly. Though it meant suffering, and even being made lower than angels for a time, he was willing to do all this only because he wanted to show us the way. He continues to issue this injunction even today. If those contemplating marriage will follow his example, the plan of God, as illustrated in Genesis, can become a reality today.