Some people just cannot feel comfortable if they are in a room which has a picture-frame even a little crooked. Others don’t care or think it might be a new form of artistic expression. Orderliness is close to godliness and when something is off kilter, (what ever kilter is) the former group just has to get up and ever so subtly rearrange their universe. The latter group won’t notice that either.
Our personal frames kilter and tilter and never are permanently set straight. We can become frustrated or negative about our spiritual progress. We can prepare for the Eucharist by reviewing just how unsightly, in our eyes, our lives must be to God. Jesus is our Frame-of-Reference. God views us through this Frame and blesses us with the central picture within that Frame. That Frame stays straight, fixed, and looks upon us with the very love we wish we could have for ourselves if only we were perfect. The Eucharistic liturgy is the constant presentation of the artistry of God.
We have, in our First Reading, a mythical and true story. The different traditions or theological schools contributed their various viewpoints to compose this book of Genesis. This reading is taken from the second creation narrative. Why are there two? Each of the four major religious traditions present among the people of Israel wanted to make sure their own versions of things got into the one relating of God’s history with their nation. It would be a bit like the history of the United States being written by groups from England, Canada, Spain and the United States. Different points of view would fight for expression and importance. That is how the first five books, (the Pentateuch) was formed.
What is true is that God, somehow, created human beings after having created all the other living things. What is true is that human beings, since the first one taken from the soil - admah - in Hebrew meaning soil, struggle for control of their environment.
We read how Adam was presented with each animal and bird and he gave them their names. Those who gave names were thereby announcing themselves as having domination over that named. This continues the theme of God’s giving humans power over all other creatures.
The Pharisees are at it again as they ask an agenda-filled test question of Jesus concerning divorce within the Jewish faith community. This is the opening of our Gospel for today. They, of course, want to see if Jesus knows and observes the ancient laws and traditions. Jesus engages in this scriptural ping pong game by asking them what they know, coming from Moses the great law-giver. They reply that Moses allowed divorce, sighting Deuteronomy Twenty-four. Moses gives several rare cases where divorcing a wife would be allowed. So the testing is over.
Mark the Evangelist has now set up a new display shelf where upon Jesus is going even farther back in their scriptural tradition to Genesis and then puts forth His own interpretation of that text. (It is the text we hear in today’s First Reading.) Jesus flunks their examination, but wins the game of “Catch-em”. This passage is not explicitly about divorce. It is about the Pharisees’ trying to obtain further evidence of how Jesus is perverting the Jewish people with His teachings and practices.
The text ends with Jesus’ blessing of a little child in His arms and announcing that simple acceptance of His words and ways as one accepts a little child is the way to live toward the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees are opposite, they argue, defend, protect and deny in their complex relationship with God. Jesus is asking them and His disciples to extend their embrace of God’s love revealed in Jesus Himself.
A young woman came to me recently who thought it is an excommunicable sin to obtain a divorce in the Catholic Church. There may have been serious sins leading to the divorce, but that is a different matter. It would be a serious sin to work deliberately to divide a marriage in the Catholic Church, but the divorce is what it is. It was and is a marriage even after the divorce. This is a very strict teaching and marrying another as a divorced person is a union in the eyes of the city and state, but a separation from the communicating Church. This, right there, is so painful for the person and for the ministers of the Church and Gospel. Ouch!
Divorce is the realization that the sacrament of Marriage which is a sign and symbol of God’s fidelity to our humanity just didn’t take, didn’t reveal that love. As a priest, I have watched marriages grow in this sacramental vocation of revealing God’s marriage with us. I have watched sadly the disunifying experiences leading to divorce between two good people. What have I learned?
Marriage is the union of love within the collision of expectations. These expectations might or might not be realized by each other or each person themselves. Ex-spect, literally “what am I looking out for”. Marriage seems to me to be the encountering of disappointments of these watchings and yet, letting them go for the love of the other and life of the union. Partners in marriage are apt to be disappointments, namely, the other is not the God I was hoping for. The other is the God-given accompanier to the God Whose love is experienced imperfectly in the reality of the other.
Divorce means, it seems to me, the admission that the other could not take me to the threshold and encourage me to go beyond to be embraced by God. We so want a god whom we can hug and who will always complete us. That God is beyond and married spouses keep reminding each other that they are sacraments of an active God Who has brought them together to be found by that same unifying God. Divorce means we could not do that for each other and maybe because one or both wanted to be the infinite Enough and was not adequate to that expectation.
Marriage, from where this priest watches, is the mutual commitment to assist God in the on-going creation of each other. Divorce is the un-creating of this sacred design. God’s continuing creation is a sacred labor and divorce is the acceptance that somehow the sacredness was put aside. Human beings get married to reveal their love for each other. God blesses that marriage to reveal God’s love for us all. May no one divide.
“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, for those who are searching for his love.” Lamentations, 3, 25
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