October 7, 2012
Some Pharisees, wanting to involve Jesus in current controversies about divorce, ask him whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Jesus replies that only because of the hardness of the human heart, Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss his wife. At the beginning, however, God created humans, male and female, to be joined together as one in marriage. Jesus says that what God has joined together, a man cannot separate by writing a bill of divorce. And if he attempts to do so and marries another woman after dismissing his wife, he commits adultery.
People were bringing children to Jesus so that he might touch and bless them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these children. And furthermore, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. Then he embraced the children and blessed them.
If we do not hear a homily as good news leading to thanksgiving and hope, it means that we are missing something essential in the text or context of the gospel passage. In the present passage, the point is not that Jesus is making a more severe law about marriage, but that he is continuing to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. This central proclamation of Jesus’ mission means the possibility of a new kind of human existence for those who accept God’s reign, including men and women who enter marriage. To suggest what the experience of God’s reign in marriage would be like, Jesus recalls God’s dream of how a man and woman could live together as one in a beautiful garden created for their delight.
Today against the background of tragic divorce statistics and the feeling among many that marriage is only a human, social construction to be defined anyway we please, the saying of Jesus about Garden-of-Eden marriage sounds like an impossible dream. Jesus indicates that in our fallen state, it is an impossible dream. The kingdom he promises is a free, divine gift as much as the original kingdom at the beginning of creation. Only those enter who come and accept God’s gift like a child.
Our gospel passage today may be experienced as good news if we follow the lead of Jesus by praying for a deeper awareness and trust that God creates us for love and happiness. The Genesis story of creation that Jesus refers to tells us of the wonderful harmony that God intended for men and women to enjoy as equal partners in marriage. The text of Genesis does not describe their delight when the man and woman discovered that they were suitable partners for each other, except that they were “both naked, yet felt no shame” (Gn 2:25). .
A small book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, is a lyrical love poem that completes the story begun in Genesis, and thus gives us a deeper sense of God’s intention in creating human beings capable of enduring love. In the Song we have a description of the beauties of their bodies as the man and woman discover each other. We also have a description of the unspoiled beauties of nature, fresh from the hand of the Creator: roses, lilies, fig trees, cedars, palm trees, pomegranates, dates, honey, wine, gazelles, turtledoves, sheep, horses.
The innocently erotic images of the Song of Songs describing without shame the loving relationship of the young man and woman were soon extended to describe the marriage covenant of Israel with God, and later by Christians to describe the union of the Church with Christ. For the Jewish people, the Song came to be associated with the Passover feast; for Christians, the Song was used in the baptismal liturgy. Many saints have used the Song’s images to describe the mystical experience of union with God.
God’s creative love for us has not changed because we have eaten forbidden fruit and our hearts have become hardened. The good news that Jesus proclaims is that God’s dream can become real again not only for men and women in marriage but for all of us. In Jesus’ proclamation, the beginning-time of harmony and delight is also the hoped for end-time of God’s reign, already present now for those who will accept it with childlike faith.
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB