January 26, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news this morning comes to us from Mark 10:1-12.
He set out from there and went into the district of Judea [and] across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he 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. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
This is a hard lesson for many, me included. We can try to wiggle around this, justifying divorce for all kinds of reasons. Even the Church permits annulment of marriage continuing the practice instituted by Moses. Paul provides some exceptions to Jesus’ absolute teaching. It seems that men — Moses and Paul and Church elders — were and are ready to bow to reality, to the hardness of our hearts. Jesus concedes that point. However, that is not God’s desire as Jesus reminds his listeners. As the New Jerome Biblical Commentary puts it, “Jesus’ teaching is a restoration of God’s plan for creation.”
Sadly, we often put ourselves at odds with God, divorce just being one example. We put ourselves in opposition to God’s plan for creation all the time and usually justify the rationale in our minds. Jesus speaks plainly about this: “no human must separate.” No one has authority or license to undo God’s plan. The ten commandments do not prohibit divorce, but do forbid adultery. He fenced in his listeners. They couldn’t cite the law of Moses as justification for divorce. It violated both God’s commandment against adultery and His plan from the beginning of creation. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark is as plain about this as Jesus was, “The most intimate of human experiences, the union between a woman and a man, can lead to the cross. The suffering and self-denial that were Jesus’ own destiny (and the destiny of all who would claim to be his followers) are shown to be more than mere words. Jesus’ new law in a new situation of God-human relationships, where the original creative design of God is restored, can be costly. Being a disciple of Jesus does not remove the need for service and receptivity in the continual demand to give oneself unswervingly within the bonds of God’s design for man and woman in marriage. The teaching of Jesus on the is matter is as idealistic, countercultural, and difficult today as it was in the time of Jesus, but Mark has taken this element from Jesus’ teaching and used it to point out to disciples that cross, service, and receptivity are not simply theory. They come into play in one of the fundamental structures of their day-to-day lives: in man-woman relationships.”
For me this is about self-denial. Am I willing to deny my selfish desires and to follow Jesus to the cross? Obviously, the answer is no and I hardened my heart in order to justify it. That’s what we humans do; we harden our hearts to one another when our desires are in deep conflict, when our needs are not met to our selfish satisfaction. That’s the reality, though, not God’s plan and not the way with Jesus to the cross. I turned my back on him, on the cross. I don’t want the cross; I don’t want to suffer.
However, this is where forgiveness enters. God does forgive me because I have asked for His forgiveness. That doesn’t mean He condones it, but He forgives me for my weakness, for my imperfection, for my failure. He wants me to be reconciled to him. The hard part is forgiving myself. He wants me to soften my hardened heart so that I can again be the instrument of His love that He desires me to be. That is His plan. I have to begin by loving myself — and I can’t if I can’t forgive myself — so that I can love others, so that I can open my heart, so that I can be His instrument of love. That also means following Jesus, taking up the cross of suffering if necessary even when every part of me cries out against it. That, too, is God’s plan. To follow Jesus, not deny him and his teaching. He was the enfleshed word of God, after all.