Sunday, October 4, 2015

till death do us part: a reflection

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.

Today more of a reflection than a sermon given that this is intended to be a fairly brief service this morning, as we have the Harvest Thanksgiving later on in the parish. So let us have a short look at our Gospel reading for today. You know, I always am a bit taken aback when I read this passage from Matthew – our Lord is so uncompromising on the topic of marriage and the fact that it is indissoluble – once you are married, you are married as long as the other person is alive; if you divorce and marry again, you are not married at all, but rather in an adulterous relationship. And adultery is, of course, a serious sin, the commission of which is a breach of one of the Ten Commandments.

And if I am a bit shocked at our Lord's very strict interpretation of the moral law on this issue, imagine what it must have been like for those listening to him at the time. I at least have grown up with this idea my entire life; and live in a culture where this has been the norm for almost 2000 years. This was not the case for the Jews listening to him. They were used to being able to get divorced when they wanted to; and in fact, there were various rabbinical schools of thought that suggested that it was acceptable to get divorced for what we might consider today to be quite trivial, if not indeed sexist, reasons – essentially if your wife burned the dinner! They must have been blown away by what Jesus was saying.

And so they argue with him. And so Jesus reminds his hearers of what it says in Genesis, where God's original plan for marriage is written. When a man and woman marry, they become one flesh, joined together by God; and what God has joined together, man may not separate.

Now there is not space in a short reflection to deal adequately with so complex an area of moral theology, especially one that for many can be so sensitive. But perhaps we may consider one small point. Why does God think marriage to be so important that he will join together as one flesh those who marry in an unbreakable bond? Let us step away for a moment from the more obvious reasons such as the bringing into the world of children and providing them with a secure and stable place in which to grow up; or even to provide companionship for the spouses. Let us think instead of why we have been created – which is to be in heaven eternally with God. And during this life, that is to be our primary aim – to grow in holiness so that at the end of this life we may enter into eternal life. God wants this more than anything – was it not for this reason that he sent his only Son into the world? And if God became man for our salvation, we must also look at the relationship between husband and wife in that context as well – that marriage, along with all other relationships, is intended to help us grow in holiness.

Viewed in that light, the primary work of the husband is to work work for the salvation of his wife; even as it is the job of the wife to do her utmost that the soul of her husband be saved. Not all marry, of course, but those who are called by God to do so and answer that call must not look on it as some kind of temporary arrangement that lasts as long as the two parties are both getting what they want out of it; but rather that it is a divinely ordained state of life, where the one looks to the ultimate good of the other, even as they trust that the other will look to their ultimate good also. A challenging task, no doubt; but to help God grants the couple his grace by changing them on day they make their marriage vows from two into one; one flesh from that moment until the day they are parted by death.


This may seem difficult; but is it too difficult a thing? Not if we trust that God grants us the grace needed. As I said earlier, marriage is a calling, and, as the Apostle St Paul tells us, God equips those whom he calls. And above all else, we can have no doubt as to whether the permanence of marriage is part of God's plan for us, for we have nothing less than the words of Christ himself to assure us that this is so. Christ said elsewhere that blessed are those who listen to God's word and obey; and so the prayer I end with today is that all of God's children will listen to his word and obey – in marriage, and in all things. Amen.

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