Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
This is a hard Gospel for many people. Today we truly find this reading hard. In this Gospel Jesus flies in the face of those who want to “be spiritual but not religious”. For them, it seems the main argument is that I can follow the spiritual life, and now be bound by anyone telling me what to do or making rules, or follow any proper way of liturgical prayer. Many will argue that Jesus got rid of rule, that he spoke against the pharisees who were the “rule makers”. This is true Jesus did bring the pharisees down and notch or two, he had been known to call them a brood of vipers, and really be harsh on them. This Sunday’s Gospel Jesus again is countering the pharisees, however he counters them for being weak on the regulations. “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.” This commandment He is referring to is Moses allowance of a bill of divorce. This gets to the heart of what Jesus’ problem with the pharisees is. That is that they are focused on worldly goods, worldly thoughts, worldly laws. They focused on those things that gave them authority and power, and those things that allowed them to be in control. It was easier to keep the people happy, by allowing divorce. However, Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” This is to look at the Godly way of life, the eternal way of life, the supernatural way of life.
Yet, this is hard. Look at the statistics of divorce in this country, look at the number of Catholics who are divorcing. Obviously the hardness of our hearts would make it easier for those in authority to give in, and to write a bill of divorce. Some churches have done this. It is hard to get away from what Jesus has said. Thus, the Catholic Church has stayed strong in this teaching. It is not that the Church wants to be harsh on those that have gone through divorce. It is not that the Church is saying that those who have divorced are evil or less good. However, though there may be reasons for a civil divorce the Church goes back to what Jesus has said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” The Church has realized that it does not have authority to separate what God has united. The only option the Church has is to look to determine if a valid marriage existed, and if God had united the two. Through an annulment process it may be determined that a marriage never existed. It is best then that if there is a divorce one does not seek remarriage. This again is not to be mean to those who are divorced, but to care for their soul. If they are married before God, and there is no separation from God, then any remarriage becomes invalid. When this is the mindset, then we can focus on this during marriage preparation. There are studies that show this marriage preparation, and this teaching on the longevity of marriage, and the seriousness that this is more then just a civil situation has led to positive numbers, less divorces, longer marriages, and better marriages. There are states that are giving discounts on marriage licenses if the couple goes through a marriage preparation program like those the Catholic Church provides.
All this comes down to why Jesus was so serious about this, and why the Church following His lead is so serious about this. “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” Marriage, then is the first sacrament that God had established. As we know a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. It is a means of which God pours His very life into the faithful. This outward sign is the union of a man and woman, the uniting of flesh from two into one. The grace the sign value of this, is the fact that God desires to be united with us in the same way. That we become one with the Lord. Jesus uses throughout His teaching the imagery of the Church as Bride and Himself as the Bridegroom. The Eucharist is a means of the union of the whole of God in the sacramental presence of the Eucharists with the whole of us. The Old Testament is full of covenant language, and allusions toward God and the Israelite nation in this husbandry language. There is the sign value of The Church as bride receiving life (newly baptized) from God, and nurturing this life within her. When we see this, we see that Christian marriages are meant to be a sign of this love of God. They are meant to be a means of the faithful and those who are not Christian being able to see what the love of God should be. When we as Christians, as Catholics understand this, we treat our marriages differently, we treat marriage itself differently, and we act in a different way. We become on fire for the Lord in living this love out in our marital relationships, and understand what Jesus was saying to us in the Gospel this weekend.
May God continue to strengthen our lives, and give us the grace to live out any marriages we are in as a sign of the love of God and the Church.