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Marriage as God Envisions and Desires It

Friday, February 25, 2022

Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

by Fr. David M. Knight

Mark 10:1-12. Year II: James 5:9-12; Psalm 10:1-12.

Jesus cannot be accused of remaining abstract. Having established that the Good News is greater than anything humans could conceive of, both in what it promises and in what it demands — and having shown himself transfigured as the source of it — he goes on to show how the Good News transfigures two of the most basic values in human life: sexual love and (10:21) property ownership.

Some Pharisees introduce the first issue by asking what Jesus thinks about divorce. Knowing their legalistic mentality, Jesus asks, “What did Moses command you?” They answer, “Moses permitted divorce.” Jesus replies, “He wrote that commandment for you because of your hardness of heart.” Then he goes on to explain what marriage is in God’s eyes: “The two become one flesh. They are no longer two, but one flesh. So what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus didn’t say Moses presumed to rescind a law of God or that God had even made a law about divorce. He explains how God sees marriage and points out (at least) that to divorce a wife just to marry another is the same as adultery. Divorce is not part of God’s plan; it goes against the way things are supposed to be — something keenly felt by every disillusioned person who has suffered through the experience of one.

Jesus is not making a precise law. He is holding up an ideal. In her pastoral policy the Church doesn’t have that option. She has to translate ideals into practical laws to keep the community united. Where Jesus just speaks of “divorce,” canon lawyers will specify “after a ratified and consummated sacramental marriage between two baptized persons.” Church law is strict, but does allow divorce and remarriage in certain cases and for the sake of a higher good: for example, the conversion of one of the parties. And laws have changed over the years (see the New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, Liturgical Press, 1990; Code of Canon Law, 1141-1150; and google “Pauline, Petrine Privilege”).

Jesus’ focus was not on crafting a law, but on presenting marriage as God envisions and desires it. He is teaching us how to “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). To be authentic Christians, this is the kind of marriage we have to believe in. Whether we are always able to live up to it in practice is important, but most important is our heart’s sincere desire to try and to never be comfortable with less.

Initiative: Clarify why, as an ideal, Church teaching on marriage inspires you.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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