Homily for Sunday 27B 2018

Many of the early Fathers of the Church noticed a connection between sadness and anger. If someone was sad, that sadness could turn to anger. It can work also the other way round and anger can leave one depressed. Whenever today’s Gospel comes up, there is always someone, at least one, in the congregation who feels sad when he or she hears Jesus’s teaching on divorce; and that sadness can lead to anger and rebellion.

Jesus insists that marriage is permanent and that the parties in a marriage may not remarry if their spouse is alive. That would be adultery. This was as much out of step with the world in Jesus’s day as it is in ours.

The Pharisees look to Moses who did not command divorce, but who permitted it. Jesus looks behind and beyond Moses to God and Creation. He does this because, with him, there is a new Creation; with him, all things are made new.

Jesus refers to the stories at the beginning of Genesis. One of them is our first reading today. We are with Adam in the Garden. It is not good that man should be alone. He needs a help meet for him. By the way, the word “help-mate” is a misreading of an early English Bible translation, where it said that God would make Adam a help meet for him. “Meet” is a Word that means “suitable” or “appropriate”, thus a help meet for him, which people changed into “help-mate”. The thing is that there is not suitable help for man among the animals. He names them; they are something less than he is. Among them, there is nothing meet for him. 

Over the centuries, it has been traditional to treat Adam as if he were a man. But Adam is the human being and the human being on its own is, in a way, less than human. He cannot even be fully male because being male only makes sense if there is also a female. So God takes Adam’s rib and clothes it in flesh, making a woman. So that, in a way, it is only when he is divided into two sexes that the human being becomes fully human.

When men and women come together, they become one flesh. In Biblical terms, this means more than becoming one body. When St Paul and other New Testament writers talk about flesh, they mean the whole person, starting out from the body. This becoming one flesh does seem, biologically, something to do with making children. Put like that, it may seem a bit silly, but reading and hearing and seeing so much about sex today, you would never guess it. Perhaps it is our society that is a bit foolish.

Despite spending so much time, ink and pixels on sex, our society doesn’t take it seriously. It seems like someone juggling with dynamite and shrugging off the occasional explosion and the fatalities (as in abortion). Dynamite is very useful in the right circumstances, but it has to be treated with respect and care. So too do the relations between men and women. They are fundamental to our being human. They need care and protection and foresight and planning and all the other things that humans can do. 

Marriage is never just for the moment, for now. It always looks towards the future, the future of the spouses, but also of the children. The relation of parent and child changes, but it is permanent, for good or ill. As a contemporary of mine said, “The grandchildren are no problem, you just let them crawl all over you; it’s dealing with their parents that’s the hard bit.” 

So Jesus looks to the beginning and also to the new Creation, and he takes human beings more seriously than they take themselves at times; and so he insists that marriage is between men and women; and that it is permanent.