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Love & Marriage

Mark 10: 2-9

The Rev. Jon Roberts

4 October


Good Shepherd Episcopal

Venice, FL

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,[a] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”


Matrimony, The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden, 1445

Love and marriage,
Love and marriage,
Go together like a horse and carriage,
This I tell you brother,
You can’t have one without the other.

Love and marriage,
Love and marriage,
It’s an institute you can’t disparage.
Ask the local gentry,
And he will say it’s elementary.

Try, try, try and separate them,
It’s an illusion.
Try, try, try and you will only come,
To this conclusion.

Love and marriage,
Love and marriage,
Dad was told by mo-ther,
You can’t have one without the o-ther. [1]

In the 1958 movie, “Indiscreet,” these lyrics are sung by the smooth voice of Frank Sinatra. Anna Kalman, played by Ingrid Bergman, is an accomplished actress who has given up hope at finding the man of her dreams. She is in the middle of taking off her face cream, while talking about this subject with her sister, when in walks a handsome diplomat, Philip Adams, played by the cavalier, Cary Grant. She loses her concentration for a moment as she realizes that this is the charming, smart, and handsome man she has been waiting for. It begins as love-at-first-sight but she finds out later he has been keeping a secret from her. [2]

In a marriage there is always the element of surprise. In our gospel today, Jesus affirms there are no surprises for him. He is not disparaged because he views marriage as a verb, not a noun. Jesus said to his disciples, “For your hardness of heart He [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

When one disparages over something, it means they live below a standard. Jesus is speaking to a disparaged people. There is a woman, somewhere, who is beaten up. She’s either been hit with emotional, physical, or mental abuse. Usually it’s a woman. Not always, but usually. We don’t see her, but Jesus knows she’s there. In fact, it’s not just one but perhaps thousands. And, here he is, approached by the religious leaders on a question relating to casuistry. A perplexing, entangled and difficult legal ethic. Is it right for a man to divorce his wife? Interestingly enough, a pastor submitted an article on this same subject recently in one of the local newspapers in our area. His answer was, “Jesus approved that divorce was an option.” His argument was justified by the abuses heaped on the wife. Women back then, after all, were property, he said. Out of compassion Jesus implicitly referred to divorce in some of his other sayings, said the pastor.

Perhaps in the passage heard last week, when Jesus said it was best to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin. After all, a man who sins by abusing his wife, may cause her to sin, so one would think, so she should cut him off from her life by divorce. But Jesus never said this about divorce implicitly or any other way. On the subject of marriage, it is not only bad pastoral advice to say that Jesus permitted divorce, but it is extremely bad theology. Our human culture has come down to this provision. It truly believes, out of compassion, God gives permission but this misses the point. It has nothing to do with permission. God gives the Church the mission of reconciliation. Bringing two together to become one, is its purpose. Divorce, therefore is a temporal decree, not an eternal one. When it comes to marriage God is speaking plainly. “He is directing us to three images”, says Richard Hays, a theologian at Duke University, who refers to Jesus always speaking in these terms. There is the Community, the Cross, and Creation. The Community is the Church. The Cross is the sacrifice of Jesus. The Creation is the purpose of God’s will.

Let’s apply these to the subject of marriage and divorce. Many have left the Roman Catholic tradition because it says you cannot be divorced unless you annul your previous marriage but anyone married within the Church is married into the flesh, the body of Christ. Once you have been bound to a person, via the Church community how can you be separated from the body of Christ? In sickness and in health, until death do you part, you are made one flesh not only with each other but also with the Church. Who can be married to another and not talk about a previous spouse in a way where their life didn’t change by being married to them? It’s impossible. What the Church joins together, the church really joins together. That’s why a wife who has had several husbands, all who have died, let’s say, still feels a closeness in some way or another to each. But an ethic applies to the discipline of marriage as well, of what deals with good and bad, or else husbands and wives would subscribe to harems.

A moral applies and with it a sense of duty and obligation, with right living as our goal. This is where the Cross comes in. Marriage is a sacrifice. There may be a lot to gain, but often it comes after a lot has been lost. A person changes when they’re married. They begin to take on the attributes of the other. Some things that lay dormant are more accentuated. When we lay down our lives for the life of another, we give up our self out of love for the other. Sometimes that love returns empty, and this is sad. In some cases, human reasoning may use others out of selfishness, but this is the cost of marriage. At any given time in the day, one is giving and the other is receiving. Our hope is that throughout the life of the marriage, or at the end of the day, the percentage is fair but there are no guarantees. The last image is Creation and we hear about it in Genesis with the story of Eve joining the flesh of Adam. So it is as the Church is joined to Christ and so it is as the husband is joined to his wife.

The Church cannot speak about marriage in a culture with a fifty percent divorce without relating to these three images. The Church Community, the Sacrifice of the Cross, and God’s Creation. Life will be full of surprises. Sometimes a husband and wife may feel there is no choice other than divorce but understand the role of the Church, is not there to judge, labeling this as a failure or something to be dissolved. The words of Jesus are not spoken to blame and shame causing hurt and frustration. Nor are God’s acts of creation performed to make things seem impossible or unrealistic. All three serve to reinforce God’s love and perfection. For God will never leave his bride, the Church. God made the sacrifice by sending his Son, for you. and God will create out of nothing, taking man and woman, and bringing them together as one. In these three images we can relate to His love by what he has chosen to marry. We are the image of the original, and images are not perfect, but through our marriage to him, because he has chosen us, we find the perfection of his love.

Love and marriage. Try, try, try and separate them, it’s an illusion.
Love and marriage. Love and marriage. As the Father tells the Church, the Mother, you can’t have one without the other. [5]

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