Sunday, Oct. 7, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Genesis 2: 18-24; Psalm 128:1-6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16.
As we read this week’s Gospel, we can imagine the people falling silent as the Pharisees pushed through the crowds to Jesus. All heads must have turned and waited with suspense as they baited the trap: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
It was over this very question that John the Baptist had lost his life. This, of course, was exactly what the Pharisees had in mind.
But Jesus swatted their question away with one of his own: “What did Moses command you?”
And they answered as he no doubt expected, replying that Moses allowed divorce. This was true, but it was secondary to the original law of God, also authored by Moses back in Genesis, as Jesus reminds them. God’s primary plan for marriage was to be an image of his own love, and it was, therefore, to be both permanent and exclusive. It was because of their sin that the Israelites had proven themselves unable to be faithful to the higher standard of the Covenant, and so Moses had conceded to them in a “second law” designed primarily to protect marriage from total debasement.
His critics could not help but be silenced when he quoted from Genesis: “This is why a man must leave father and mother and the two become one flesh.”
Even the disciples, wise enough to wait, questioned Jesus further when they were alone. This was a hard teaching and one not well-lived at the time. But the Lord only put further emphasis on his point: Divorce and remarriage is equal to adultery. Period. Perhaps the disciples could not see past their own brokenness and weakness to see Who was speaking to them and what he had done for marriage. It was Jesus himself who had made marriage into a sacrament, who had forever bound himself up in the marriage covenant, and who, by grace, had made this permanent, selfless kind of love possible.
Jesus came not only to re-establish the original intention of God for marriage, but to restore marriage.
In the dictionary, we read that the definition of “restore” is to return something to its original condition.
But in Scripture, to restore something is to make it better than it was before it was broken or lost. Marriage as a sacrament is greater than marriage before the Fall. In God’s great, generous, mysterious love, he elevates our human failures and makes something new — and better.
Possibly the disciples would not be able to fully understand the teaching of marriage until they had witnessed the most powerful teaching on love in the form of the cross. The cross, in the end, is the definitive answer to all the questions, not only about marriage, but about love itself. It is only in the complete, cruciform gift of ourselves that we come to know love and to live it out in the countless ways marriage — and all of Christian life — calls for.
It is worth noting, too, that this Gospel seems to end with a change in subject. Or does it? Jesus asks that the children be allowed to come to him, and thus, he places before us not only the fruit of marriage, “olive plants around the table,” but the weakest ones that the bond of marriage is designed to protect.
May we be transformed — restored — by the grace of Jesus and allow him to elevate our capacity to love beyond our own weakness and into a reflection of his own.
coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.