Homily 27th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoReadings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11 and Mark 10:2-16
Unity, Love and Mutual Respect!
This past summer I was in New Orleans, in the the United States for a Catholic Bible Conference. With the high rate of divorce today in the world, a colleague of mine was eager to attain the session on marriage and family by Fr. Francis Moloney. I learned from him that among his seven married brothers, he was the only married one married but divorced only once. Others had experienced divorce more than once! It was a painful experience for him and his family and the more reason he was very eager to hear what the church, Fr. Moloney would have to say about family and marriage today! Many in the world may have had similar curiosity during the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United that culminated in his address to families in Philadelphia. Currently, we are also curiously, awaiting the outcome of the ongoing 2015 synod of the Bishop on family and marriage, in Rome.
Today’s readings are addressed to these same family themes of marriage and divorce. Scripture today emphasis the importance of unity, Christian love, the need to care for the weak- such as children, the vulnerable of the society, and the need to reflect on what makes for a successful marriage; what promote mutual complementarity as exemplified in the unity and sanctity of Christian marriage.
In the first reading ( Gen 2:18-24), we are told a man shall leave his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh, while in the Gospel we are reminded that God has joined together let no one separate(Mark 10:2-9). This is also what we have been taught over the years in the Catechism that marriage, is a matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation, education of offspring, and this covenant between two baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of the sacrament.These understanding and teaching is constantly been threatened by modern secular laws of some nations! In the face of such threats how does the Christian community in these nations preach, teach and live Christian marriage- with regard to same –sex marriages and divorces!
Of course divorce in the first century divorce was a generally an acceptable practice both among the Jews and within the wider context of the Greco-Roman world. It was also a topic of constantly legal debate. In this debate among the Jewish legal community, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was a key text, one that assumes divorce will occur and proscribes procedures for carrying it out. But today’s readings in particular call the permissibility of divorce into question.
In the Gospel, the Pharisees who asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife, did so to test Jesus! They wanted to know if Jesus was against or for- families, only to be reminded by Christ that they misunderstood the scripture, which they interpreted to justify their errors!
In Jesus’ view marriage should not just be about legality, but love, endurance, perseverance, sacrifice, respect and care! What the ancient people initially practiced in Deut 24:1-4 was due to human weaknesses. For Jesus we can always do better by looking back into God’s love of creation in today’s first reading (Gen 1:27; 2:24). God out of love created man and woman in his own image, to love him, through how they love, help, treat, and respect each other mutually. From Adam’s ribs God created Eve- they become one bone and one flesh. No separation! Of course no right thinking person would do harm to his own flesh and bones! No one breaks his or her own bones!
No doubt, in the ancient world women and children were treated as goods, and properties. Some men used divorce to their own advantage. Women and children were signs of economic stability and social privileges, but Jesus throughout his ministry gives everyone, women, the poor, the lowly, children a place in the family structure. Women and children are no longer passive objects of God’s kingdom- they all belong to God’s kingdom.
Today’s readings also reminds us that we live in a culture that divorce could be initiated by either a man or the woman for various reasons- political, social, cultural and economic. Economically, even though divorce still leads people, especially women (in some cultures) into financial difficulties- divorce women today (in some places) do not always find themselves economically challenged as their ancient counterparts- perhaps one of the reasons for high rate of divorce?
Regardless of good or better economics, scripture lessons today, among other themes, stress wholeness, oneness, unity and mutual respect to all including the little children, even in moment of challenges and trials! In the Gospel Christ explicitly says, “let the little children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:13-15). Children are vulnerable and are often the true victims of divorce, something we must also keep in mind. Divorce or failed marriages, can bring family, society, hurt, pain and brokenness- even in those circumstances(domestic violence, unfaithfulness etc) when divorce seem to appear to be the best among all available options. Therefore, what God has joined together let no human being separate!