Jul 18, 2015
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Challenge and the Beauty of God’s Plan for Marriage


As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, many of us priests in the Church tend, at times in history, to water down the teachings of Jesus.  We do this because we priests, like everyone, have an ego.  We like to be liked.  And if we teach something that is easy, if we don’t challenge people, and always make them feel like God is patting them on the back, well, generally we believe we will be well liked, there will be less tension or uncertainty about us.  It’s a temptation every person faces.  But for us priests, as we heard in the first reading: “Woe to these shepherds … they lead the people astray.”

 

See, friends, Jesus teaching is at times very challenging – and this shouldn’t surprise us, because we can recognize that this is a fallen world as such, it is broken by sin - "there is enmity", as St. Paul mentions. To get out of enmity, out of brokenness, sometimes we have to pass thru challenges (forgiveness, uncertainty, darkness).  Like a group of people lost in a forest, they have to find their way out, but it is challenging.  Someone may come to lead them out, but maybe they will have to pass over challenging terrain to get out.  But they have to trust the person leading them anyway.  In a similar way, the terrain of the teachings of Jesus often runs counter to the instincts of a fallen world.  It is challenging at times to follow Jesus.  To ignore that is to live in a fantasy world.  But if you want to find your way to the verdant pastures, to the fair meadow, the restful waters that we heard of in today’s readings - you have to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd and trust Him – even when the terrain of his teaching is challenging.

 

In this context, let's begin to learn about what Jesus teaches, and his Church thus professes, about marriage and family life. 

 

Let's begin with that strange word from St. Paul, "enmity".  Enmity refers to brokenness, a rift, a divide. God didn't make man and woman for enmity. He made them for oneness. 

 

We hear this right in the beginning of the book of Genesis: "God made them male and female.  And a man shall leave his father & mother and cling to his wife.  And the two shall become one flesh ..." 

 

But, once they sinned, man and woman entered into a state of brokenness, of disunity, or enmity. They then felt shame, hurt, sorrow, disgust, even hatred for one other. Sometimes, man and woman still feel this.  The existence of such things is evidence that we live in a fallen world. 

 

Remember though, that before the fall, we are told that Adam and Eve were "naked without shame". There was no disharmony between them, just total trust; no fear, just grace. But once they sinned, they became conscious of their nakedness, and then they were embarrassed, they didn't trust one another as they had before. Something changed: namely, selfishness entered the world. From this point on, there would be shame, hurt, sorrow, disgust, even hatred.

 

And thru the course of history, we see its results.  Man began to abuse and use woman. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, just using her.  And she, at times, would use him too, or abandon him. Their life once may have had prospects of being beautiful and harmonious. But because of the brokenness of sin and selfishness - distrust rests with in human relationships. Especially in the love of man and of woman.  

 

Over the centuries man and woman began to marry and then divorce. In the Old Testament, many of the men, even some of the great ones, had multiple wives. Would you like that? Does that sound right to us?

 

It doesn't sound right.  Why?  After all, who really cares?  Isn’t that the dominant attitude of our time: “Who cares, it is not my business …”

 

Yet, multiple wives … all that stuff, we don’t like.  We instantly realize: its not right.  This is because it is a distortion of Marriage – a redefining of marriage that is not in accord with God’s plan for man and woman. We don't like one man with many wives. And we can conclude from this natural dislike that man can manipulate marriage for his own benefit or personal gain. And when he manipulates marriage, it undermines God's plan for marriage, it undermines the way God designed the natural order, it undermines also every society, family and individual in which such manipulation of marriage takes place. 

 

Now, what do I mean by the “Natural Order of Marriage”.  Well, what I mean is: what was marriage intended to be?  What is marriage in its true and natural form?  Well, we can know the natural order of marriage from three sources (among others …):

  1. First, the Bible - Genesis: "God made them male and female.  And a man will leave his mother and father and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."  It’s really a beautiful thought!  But note, it's not "cling to his wives", it's his wife. It's not cling to his "partner", it's cling to his wife.  It's not "cling to his mistress", it's cling to his wife. It's not "cling to a friend", it's cling to his wife. It's not "cling to his husband", it's cling to his wife.  And vice versa for wives.

 

  1. Secondly, we know God's plan for marriage by the use of our intelligence. That is to say, we know it by the use of reason. We can deduce by observing and thinking, that man and woman belong together in a way that nothing else in creation does.  Let me give an easy example of what I mean. I know that if I want toast I need two things: bread and a toaster. If I have only two toasters, but not bread, I won't get any toast. Because two toasters don't fit together - they don't serve one another's purpose naturally, they aren't made to make toast on their own, or even with two toasters together. It's not their purpose.

 

Similarly, man and woman go together. They fit together in their biology. This is obvious if we simply look at the biology of man and woman: they go together naturally. This is not true of two men, two woman, a solitary person, a man and an animal, or anything of the sort. Man belongs with woman by nature, and woman with man by nature. We can arrive at this with the simple and prudent use of our intelligence.

 

  1. Thirdly, we can also get the sense of this natural "going-together" of man and woman from the depths of our hearts. So, we can say that there's something about a man having three wives that bothers us. There's something about a woman having four husbands that we don't like. 

 

See those who are married are not inclined to "share their spouse", and if they are, we would quickly regard that as pretty disgusting.  We would say, "something is wrong with that". And we'd be right, because the natural instinct of the human heart, implanted there by God, directs us to committed and exclusive love until death.

 

Now, divorce is legal in our society, and in cases of domestic violence I would say it is absolutely necessary, and in other cases where one form or another of verbal abuse exists, or abandonment, it may be better for spouses to separate, even though they are still married.  But, rather than being a natural outcome of marriage, divorce is always kind of heartbreaking. We have joyous wedding receptions because commitment is awesome and worthy of celebration.  But, no one has a "divorce reception", because it's a time of sadness, of grief. Even when, for reasons of domestic violence divorce is necessary, and I would say, even praiseworthy – it’s still sad.

 

This is because deep down in our beings, our hearts, our souls, we know that love until death is what we're made for. Love to the end, love forever, is a foretaste of heaven. Marriage between a man and woman until death thus has something about it that conveys the sweetness and unity of heaven. God made us for this unity, this love, it's what we are looking for in the depths of our being: unity and love in all its purity.

 

Let me make one final point. 

 

In the years that followed the fall of Adam and Eve – and of all mankind – even the Israelites, even God's own people were led astray with regard to marriage.  Even the patriarchs had many wives. King David had a mistress, Onan used his own wife for sexual pleasure by contracepting, nearly everyone was divorcing each other. And at the time, much of it was legal in Judaism. 

 

So, when Jesus came, the Pharisees, you remember them, right, they are the ones who always try to trip Jesus up and undermine his teaching and credibility. Well they did it with Marriage too. They came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, Moses said, a man may divorce his wife ..." But what do you say?  And Jesus responded, "God permitted this because of the hardness of your hearts, but in the beginning it was not so ..."

 

You know what this means:  God permitted you to change his plan for marriage, because your hearts are hardened, but it wasn’t his plan – and now, Jesus says, I am going to restore the Father’s beautiful plan for Marriage. Yes, God loved you Israelites despite your stubbornness.  He hasn't fully and finally rejected you – even though you often have rejected him. He let you go astray and bring great harm upon yourselves and your families, great wounds to the women you took advantage of, the children you led astray.  But, "In the beginning, it was not so". “In the beginning", what he made you for, how he made you to live is something beautiful and wonderful with the logic and biology of which only God can conceive, a love amazing and pure, a love that endures and lasts. 

 

In the beginning, God made man for woman and woman for man. He made them to be together until death – committed in lifelong love. This is the beauty of marriage, the truth of marriage – ad nothing less is good enough for the sons and daughters of God. 

 

Now we may not always live up to it perfectly.  We all have brokenness in our family, we all have wounds and sorrows … it is all a part of the package of living in a fallen world.  Like the Israelites, the Lord never abandons us … but we can choose in this moment to hear his voice and follow him.  To allow him to lead us with his teaching over the challenging terrain and to the verdant pastures, the fair meadows, the restful waters.

 

See, even when it is challenging, friends, even when it is countercultural, we want to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and embrace the beauty of Marriage as God so made it. We can then teach our sons and daughters to honor their own dignity as well as their future husband or wife by waiting till they are married, we we encourage our friends to try and work things out in a difficult time in their family life, we can celebrate and reserve the utmost respect for marriage between a man and a woman – when we do this, we begin to live "on earth as it is in heaven". That's what the Good Shepherd wants for his sheep. For marriage in all its beauty is among the most verdant pastures, the beautiful meadows, the most restful waters to which the Good Shepherd leads his flock.

Where you'll find Jesus Christ on the Eastern end of Orleans County.