Friday, October 5, 2012

Homily 27th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily 27th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11 and Mark 10:2-16

Our Equality before God: Fidelity, Peace and Love

On this day of my priestly anniversary, I am tempted to recall few major events and dates in my life.
I was born on September 12, baptized on October 8 and named Michael, whose feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael we just celebrated the other day, on September 29th.   Providentially, everything around me seems to be falling- in between the months of September and October. I was ordained a priest 17 years ago on this day, October 7, 1995 along side my other three brother- priests, John, Linus and Gabriel. I have so many blessings and gifts from God this past 17 years of sharing in the priesthood of his Son Jesus Christ.

They include the gifts of life, my parishioners, and the wonderful people I have met on the way around the world, my educations, friends, role of my benefactors and benefactresses, my teachers, mentors, students, colleagues and fellow workers, in this beautiful Vinevard of the Lord, the gifts of our Seminary Community, so many gifts!! I cannot name them all.

I am grateful to my siblings and my parents who are now in heaven. I know I am the fruits of their union as you all are the fruits of your parents. I am the fruits of their peace. I am the fruits of their love. I am the fruits of their fidelity. Without them I would not have been here. And this brings us to the theme of the bible lessons of today “the sanctity of marriage, our equality before God, man and woman, who are all called to lives of fidelity, peace and love.”

In the gospel reading of today while Jesus was teaching the Pharisees came to him with a tricky question “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife.” I call it trickish because they were not sincere. They knew the laws and the implication of their question.

By posing this question, they are trying to force Jesus into a position where he has to offend someone with his answer, or be trapped or alienate someone in the community.
If he opposes divorce and remarriage on legal grounds, Jesus will contradicts the existing Law of Moses, in Deuteronomy 24, familiar to the Pharisees as well, that, “When a man after marrying a woman, is later displeased or unhappy with her because he finds in her something indecent or shameful, he can write out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house… putting her on the road to remarriage….”

On the other hand if Jesus opposes this law of divorce on moral grounds he exposes himself to the same fate of John the Baptist who was beheaded because he opposes idea of Herodias deserting Philip, her husband to marry Herod Antipas.

But at the same time if Jesus accepts divorce on legal grounds, he subjects himself to the way the Pharisees would interpret the Law of Moses or will be leaning to one of the ancient rabbinic schools: Shammai or the Hillel. In their efforts to explain what was “shameful” or “indecent” to warrant divorce, the rabbinic school, Shammai contended that divorce be granted in case of an immoral behavior like adultery and failure to observe Jewish laws. The other school, Hillel in addition to any moral fault, argued that anything which causes embarrassment to the husband, including a burnt bread or bad dinner legitimizes a divorce.

Can you imagine, bad dinner!  This still happens today! However, most importantly in this text is not this rabbinic argument, but how Jesus handles or response to the pretense, the temptation or tricky question put to him by the Pharisees “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife.”

Jesus cleverly turns the table of this question on them by asking, “What did Moses command? Note the choice of Jesus' word, “Command” but in their response they said, Moses “permitted.” Truly, in asking for what Moses commanded Jesus was referring to the teaching of the Torah especially the two creation accounts in the book of Genesis, that “God created man and woman in his own image,” of love, freedom, communion, rationality and unity of coexistence (Gen 1:27; 2:18-24). How easy it is for us sometimes to forget the basic commands to treat one another with love, respect and unity in Christ that the Lord expects of us!

This specific Deuteronomic-Mosaic provision, Jesus explains was made for contingency of divorce, but not in itself determines whether that contingency was right or wrong. Its primary function was to provide a degree of protection for the woman who had been repudiated by her more culturally and socially constructed-powerful husband. Thus in Deuteronomy divorce is tolerated, but not authorized. Unity, equality and love of one’s neighbor as God would have loved us, is rather promoted.

For Jesus the root of the confusion and pretense of the Pharisees is nothing else but, the “hardness of their heart,” the weakness and brokenness of humanity, which of course has dotted the history of salvation.

In the beginning God’s intention, God’s plan has always been to bless and sanctify marriage. Two distinct sexes, male and female were created. Thus,  a man is to leave his father and mother and clings to his wife so that 1+1 is not 2 but 1,  since two of them have now become one flesh (Gen 2:18-24). Two of them are beings for God. They are God’s children, equal before God and brothers and sisters in Christ, as stressed by the Second Reading, Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 2:9-11).

Finally, recall those matrimonial ceremonies, Ordinations and Religious Professions!  With those vows taken before the presence of God husbands and wives for instance, have permanently become one in their relationship. They reflect that image of God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. They are to help, procreate, God willing, and compliment one another in love, equality, fidelity, peace and harmony.

Each of us is the fruit of such fidelity, sanctity and harmony. But when we consider the conditions under which so many modern families, nations, communities live today, men and women, husbands and wives, the divisions, the discrimination, pockets of disrespect and violent to women, and the weak that  might still out there, the remnants of wars, inequalities, the gap between the rich and the poor, the conflicts, the unfaithfulness to our vows of chastity and celibacy, high rate of divorce, abuse of minors and children, each of us is challenged to reexamine our primary call to live in communion of love, fidelity, peace and unity, respect for one another, that mirror the image of God, our creator, manifested in Christ Jesus.