"They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate."
This affirmation of the intent and sanctity of marriage, first set forth in the Book of Genesis and then repeated by the Marcan Jesus, may appear to be a beautiful but impossible ideal -- as seem so many of the teachings postulated by Jesus in the Gospel. But Jesus was not a proponent of the impossible.
|Twenty-Seventh Sunday in
Rather, his teachings put before us "a vision of what God's people can be when they choose, by God's grace, to live in God's kingdom" (Preaching the Sermon on the Mount, David Fleer, Dave Bland, eds., Chalice Press, 2007).
In the world of our own making, we actually expect anger to escalate into violence. We are not surprised when lust explodes into adultery. We've seen it so often that we think it is a sad but inevitable reality. We have begun to see the logic in loving those who love us and hating our enemies. Jesus' voice and vision are hard to heed in a world where "an eye for an eye" seems to have swallowed up the call to turn the other cheek, and where the end justifies the means.
However, in the world Jesus imagines -- a world he invites us to join -- we are to own and assuage our anger; we are to pray for our enemies; and when it comes to marriage and divorce, "we are to elevate our concern for other human beings, secure the welfare of the marginalized, and we are not to assume 'two consenting adults.' There is a whole community to consider: sisters and brothers in Christ and other innocents," says Preaching the Sermon on the Mount. Too often, the world in which Jesus bids us live seems so impractical that we find ourselves "on a rough stretch of road looking for an exit."
We have constructed a series of off-ramps to aid our escape. One of the most traveled exits is the one called "Times have changed." According to this way of reasoning, rules, values and principles that were once feasible may no longer work or apply. Other off-ramps suggest that the Gospel challenges must be more symbolic than real. Therefore, we say they are impossible and no longer binding.
But the road Jesus traveled had no off-ramps or hasty exits. When the challenges of being an authentic disciple seem overwhelming, we might call to mind Jesus' promise to be our faithful and ever-present yokemate, ever bearing, ever sharing whatever struggles we face as we travel his way and find our home in his world. He faced difficulties and challenges and did not skirt the issues.
Jesus has also given us countless examples of those who have given total responsiveness to Gospel demands: Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sojourner Truth, Oscar Romero, and Daughter of Wisdom Sr. Mary Antoinette, martyred in 1964 in the Congo, and countless other women and men who continue to live and die for their faith and service to the Gospel. They realized the presence of Jesus as their yokemate and were able to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in the pursuit of their ideals. But these brave souls, like Jesus, were also sensitive to the realities of life in this planet.
While upholding the sanctity of marriage, believers are also to be sensitive and sympathetic to the reality of divorce and to the devastating consequences for all involved. Like Jesus, we are to be yokemates who listen, pray, console and befriend the broken, the lonely and the alienated. It is not ours to judge or take sides or cast blame. We are simply companions on the journey, offering support, encouragement and hope.
"When we marry, we are not simply moving in with someone it might be fun to live with," writes author Mike Mason. "Rather, we are giving our prior assent to the whole chain reaction of trials, decisions, transformations and personal cataclysms which, once they are done with us, may leave us not only changed beyond recognition, but marked nearly as deeply as by a religious conversion" (The Mystery of Marriage, 1978).
Through it all, the grace of Jesus, our loving, constant yokemate, will never falter or fail.
[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]