A couple of weeks back we celebrated the 30th wedding anniversary of Brenda & Dennis Cyr, right here where they got married. The scripture reading was from the book of Tobit. You know that small book of the bible of 14 chapters found in the Apocrypha. I know you all have read it, and know it well.
Tobias and Sarah were praying together and Tobias said, "Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors, and blessed is your name in all generations forever. Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you forever.What is so striking to me about this (hidden) forgotten book of the bible, is what it has to say to us about marriage. Tobias & Sarah were just married and what I read to you is their prayer following the wedding feast. This prayer of thanksgiving is remarkable for several things...
You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.'
I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together." And they both said, "Amen, Amen."
First it sees their union, their marriage, in light of the union of Adam and Eve. That they like those who have come before are united in a relationship that is both helper and support, in whose likeness one is made. It is a very complimentary way of looking at the bond of husband and wife.
Second, Tobias signals the depth of his love, because he is marrying Sarah not out of lust but with sincerity. And third is their plea to find mercy and that they may grow old together.
I believe this is the type of marriage that Jesus is arguing about with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel.
I could imagine that debate, just like we have seen: The moderator is Mark the evangelist and at the podiums are the Pharisees, the highly respected authorities of Jewish Law and Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter by trade and claimed as the messiah by some.
We began with the Pharisees first question: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
Jesus responds, "What did Moses command you?"
The Pharisees answer "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."
Jesus interrupts them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 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. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
And Jesus wins the debate, or at least that is what Mark records for us. But Notice Jesus did not answer the question about the lawfulness of divorce. It is in scripture quoted by the Pharisees (Deuteronomy 24).
Now we know that Jesus lived in a different time, in a very different culture where men could divorce & women couldn’t – once divorced, a woman was in between families, removed from her husbands and she couldn’t go back to her own. There was no social safety net for her and remarriage was unlikely.
Instead like Tobias and Sarah, Jesus looks back to Genesis, and sees in the union of Adam and Eve, the purpose of marriage, bringing two people together, to become one flesh is how God created us. It is that union that has been joined with sincerity, with the hope of finding mercy and that they may grow old together.
If we hear in these words, Jesus saying no divorces, then I am afraid we have fallen into the trap of the Pharisees and have tried to make a legalism out of what Jesus said. That is not his intention.
Of course, divorces do happen. They happened in the time of Jesus and they happen now. Jesus is indifferent to the Pharisees' question about divorce because Jesus is much more concerned about going back to the beginning and talking about the complimentary and equal way God intended for us to become one flesh.
Jesus brings us back to the beginning of creation to help us see that the hope and dream of God is that we do indeed find the one to whom we wish to grow old with, with whom we want to become one flesh. Jesus ends by welcoming children into his midst. Children who then and now are not always welcomed, who like the divorcee can fall through the cracks but “it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
Jesus reminds us that such faith, in a child, in a marriage, it is what God asks of us.
It is as St. John of Chrysostom of the 4th century put it: "a marriage should begin with God's blessing, proceed in harmony and virtuous living, and finally lead the whole family to the kingdom of God." May it be so for all of us. Amen.