Monday, October 5, 2015
The Great Call
Today Jesus gives one of the hardest lessons in all of the gospels when he teaches us about marriage. The discussion starts with the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus. They think they understand the Scripture's and God's will, so they're not actually turning to Jesus for information, they're just trying to trap him. So they ask Jesus this question, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?", and Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers this question with a question. He puts the matter back in their court by saying, "What did Moses command you?" Now, answering a question with a questions isn't simply avoiding the topic, this was actually a common way for rabbis to engage in discussions about their religion. So Jesus gave them an easy question, basically he asked them to cite the Old Testament, and they know their scriptures really well, so they open up their bibles to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and show him right where it says that divorce is perfectly cool according to Moses.
In Jesus' time, divorce was pretty commonly accepted based off this short passage from Deuteronomy. Rabbis weren't so much debating whether or not divorce was permissible so much as they were discussing under what circumstances it was permissible. It was patriarchal society, so divorce was always the man's decision, and some rabbis thought divorce was permissible only if the wife was unfaithful, while some rabbis thought divorce was permissible even if she made a meal that he didn't like. Opinions covered the whole range of possibilities. But Jesus isn't interested in any of that. He dismisses all the opinions about the reason for divorce by explaining the fundamental reason Moses permitted it in the first place: "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this commandment."
Now, if the Pharisees want to quote scripture to justify their position, Jesus can play that game. He actually quotes two different scripture passages to explain his radical teaching. He quotes Genesis 1:27, "God made them male and female," and he quotes Genesis 2:24 that we heard in our first reading, "This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh." Now, the two passages he quotes are important, because they both take place before the Fall, before Adam's first sin that destroyed the union man had with God. So really, Jesus's teaching is radical, but it's not new. It's actually the most ancient and original intention God has for marriage.
It's also interesting to note that in the Pharisee's patriarchal understanding of marriage, divorce, and adultery, it was up to the man whether or not he wanted to divorce his wife, and in most circumstances it was only the wife who could commit adultery. But Jesus clarifies that either the man or the woman is capable of the sin of adultery by divorcing and marrying another, so now both spouses have equal responsibility in making the marriage work.
So Jesus restored marriage to its former dignity. What was possible before the Fall and before sin is made possible again by God's grace, through Jesus Christ. But it's important to note that Jesus never intended any of us to live the married vocation on our own. This married life is only possible with the help of Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to perfection, and he gives us the grace to make it possible.
But I would be remiss if I didn't say a word to those who are divorced, to those who have experienced this tragic and awful effect of the Fall: you still belong in the Church. There is no sin or failing so great that you are excluded from the Church. If you are remarried outside the Church then it is true that you cannot receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, but you still belong in the Church. I want to strongly encourage you to have a conversation with your pastor and he can help you understand your role in the Church.
And so for all of us, Jesus calls us to live like we are new creatures in Christ. If we are baptized Christians, then the life of holiness he calls us to is made possible by his grace. It is only possible by his grace. So it is also a call to trust. Trust that his grace is sufficient for you, trust that he has a great big beautiful plan for your life. If you are married, God is calling you to experience his love through your marriage, and he is calling your marriage to be the presence of his love in the world. His grace is real, it's present, and it's available. He is calling you to greatness, trust that it's possible.