27 Sunday B - Marriage

The question of divorce was among the most divisive issues in Jewish society.  The Book of Deuteronomy (24: 1) stipulated that a husband could divorce his wife for “some indecency.” Interpretations of exactly what constituted “indecency” varied greatly, ranging from adultery to accidentally burning the evening meal.  Further, the wife was regarded under the Law as the husband’s chattel, with neither legal right to protection nor recourse to seeking a divorce on her own.  In Biblical times, there was little appreciation of love and commitment in marriage -- marriages were always arranged in the husband’s favor, the husband could divorce his wife for just about any reason, the woman was treated little better than property.  Divorce, then, was tragically common among the Jews of Jesus’ time.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus cites the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman (today’s first reading) to emphasize that husband and wife are equal partners in the covenant of marriage (“the two become one body”).  The language of Genesis indicates that the Creator intends for the marriage union to possess the same special covenantal nature as God’s covenant with Israel.  Jesus again appeals to the spiritof the Law rather than arguing legalities:  It is the nature of their marriage covenant that husband and wife owe to one another total and complete love and mutual respect in sharing responsibility for making their marriage succeed.
Today’s Gospel reading also includes Mark’s story of Jesus’ welcoming the little children.  Again, Jesus holds up the model of a child’s simplicity and humility as the model for the servant-disciple. 
Jesus appeals to his followers to embrace the Spirit of love that is the basis of God’s “law” – that we are called to act out a sense of the compassion and justice of God rather than fulfilling legalisms and detached rituals.
Marriage is more than a legal contract between two “parties” but a sacrament – a living sign of God’s presence and grace in our midst, the manifestation of the love of God, a love that knows neither condition nor limit in its ability to give and forgive.
A child’s marvelous sense of wonder, inquisitiveness and simplicity that deflates adult “logic” and the “conventional wisdom” and make us look at the essence of our actions and our beliefs model for us how to respond in faith to Jesus' call to discipleship.

Whites and darks, bless the Lord!
The night before their 10th anniversary, they did what they had done just about every Thursday night since they were married: the laundry.
In the family room, with the baseball game on, they sorted the mountain of just-laundered clothes.  She smoothed their daughter’s tees; he folded their son’s Spiderman pajamas.  She matched up what seemed like hundreds of socks; he separated the various undershirts and underpants.
As he kept one eye on the ball game while they worked, it struck her how their laundry had grown over the last ten years.  She remembered that first year of their marriage when they would hurry off to that dingy laundromat near their one-bedroom apartment with their single basket of clothes.  They were both working and in school; time and money were tight.  Now they had this beautiful home with (thank God!) a washing machine and dryer.  With the birth of their children, the single basket quadrupled, with diapers, play clothes and school clothes, and the never ending need to wash more towels.  There were, of course, disasters along the way: the time he shrunk her beautiful cashmere sweater, the time little Bobby left crayons in his pocket that turned all the whites into a bizarre shade of reddish orange.
As she continued to fluff and folded this week's laundry, she was overcome with a sense of gratitude.  Tonight she saw these shirts and socks and shorts as nothing less than cotton and polyblend signs of God’s goodness.
Just then, her daydream snapped.  As she reached into the basket to grab a towel, he grabbed the same towel.  She looked up and smiled; he smiled back, not knowing what that tear in her eye was all about.  His touch still sent a shiver up and down her spine.  Yep, the marriage is still working, she thought.
Tomorrow night they would go out to dinner to celebrate ten years of doing laundry together.
[Suggested by the meditation “Laundry makes our marriage work” by Kristin M. Santos, in Our Family, Missionary Oblates of St. Mary, Battleford, Sask.]

A couple’s life together -- a life centered in trust, forgiveness and love -- and their generous response to the vocation of parenthood model the unfathomable and profound love of God: love that lets go rather than clings, love that happily gives rather than takes, love that liberates rather than confines.  The sacrament of marriage, as Jesus taught, is a total giving and sharing by each spouse so that the line between “his” and “hers” disappears into only “us.”  In the life they create together, life that sometimes means both taking on and letting go for the sake of the beloved, Christ is the ever-present Wedding Guest, who makes their simple, everyday life together a miraculous sacrament, in which the love of God is revealed to all of us in this couple’s love for one another.  

The first reading speaks to us of love – God’s love for his creation, his people, his very own. He does not create and leave them to manage on their own. God is constantly involved in our life! “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.” We have been made to be people who need people. It is part of our nature to be in relationship with one another, to be people who live in love, people who live in community, in a family, in togetherness. We are made for one another, made from one another. The description of woman being created from man’s rib is symbolic. She is not created from his foot to be controlled, she is not created from his head to dominate him but from close to his heart, always needed, always to be cared for.

Favourite piece?
They returned home happy but tired after celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary with their children and friends. Before falling into bed he offered to make a late-night snack for both of them. While she slumped into a stool along the kitchen counter, he collected the ham, cheese and mustard from the refrigerator. Reaching into the breadbox, he took out what turned out to be the last four slices of bread. He carefully made two sandwiches and cut each in four quarters, the way she liked them. He placed one of the sandwiches in a plate and placed it in front of her. “How come you always give me the sandwich with the heel of the bread,” she said. “For forty years we’ve been married and you always give me the heel of the bread. I know I’ve never said this before, but honey, I really hate the heel of the bread.” Embarrassed he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I always give you the heel of bread because it’s my favourite piece.” The story speaks of a tender love. It might also show some lack of communication if, after forty years, they didn’t know what each liked or disliked.
‘Cast your bread’ in Connections

In the Gospel we see the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus: It is really against the law for a man to divorce his wife? After all Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.” Even today, many question the laws/teachings of the Church. So many people are breaking the law, so why can’t the Church change according to the times? We must always distinguish between those who are law-breakers, victims of the law, and victims of circumstances. We have no right to sit in judgment, to point a finger at others. We are called to be compassionate and understanding of the weaknesses of others.  We have always to distinguish between the person and the law. At the same time we see Jesus not mincing his words. He lays down the law as it is. The Law will not change to suit our whims and fancies or for our convenience.  Marriage is for life, commitment is for life. We want our relationships to last forever and they will, if we work at them and let God be an integral part of our lives. Perhaps the last part of the Gospel gives us one way in which we can make our relationships work: Jesus let the little children come to him and blessed them. The child symbolizes dependence on another. For our relationships to work we depend on God. Lastly, even as we grow and mature we must never lose the sense of wonder that we had as children. One of the things that strikes us about children is how they can get engrossed in the simplest of things, they forget everything else and enjoy that moment, that thing, that person. That ability to wonder can keep us going and we will find there is always something to be grateful for in our relationships and in life itself.

From now on, I’m the One!
A feature in weddings in more recent times is the lighting of candles. The couple light two before the ceremony, signifying their individual lives, then when they become husband and wife they blow them out and light a single candle to symbolize the two becoming one and the unity of the partnership henceforth.  On one occasion when not only the candles but also the readings proclaimed their unity, the couple were walking down the aisle after signing the register, and as they beamed at the admiring guests the bride gave her newly acquired husband a nudge and whispered, “Did you take that all in?” “All what?” he said. “All that about the two being one.” “Yes I guess so,” he said, and then came the coup de grace. “Well in case you’re in any doubt, from now on I’m the one!”
James A. Feeban in ‘Story Power’

Old Love
The question is asked, “Is there anything more beautiful in life than a boy and a girl clasping clean hands and pure hearts in the path of marriage? Can there be any thing more beautiful than young love?” And the answer is given. “Yes there is a more beautiful thing. It is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey together on that path. Their hands are gnarled, but still clasped; their faces are seamed but still radiant; their hearts are physically bowed and tired, but still strong with love and devotion for one another. Yes there is a more beautiful thing than young love. Old love.”

The Marriage Commitment
Harold Kushner, an American rabbi tells how a young couple came to see him one evening. Their wedding was coming up and he was to officiate at it. At one point the young man said to him, ‘Rabbi, would you object if we made one small change in the wedding ceremony? Instead of pronouncing us husband and wife ‘till death do us part,’ could you pronounce us husband and wife’ for as long as love lasts? We’ve talked about this and we both feel that, should the day come when we no longer love each other, it wouldn’t be morally right for us to be stuck with each other.’ But the rabbi replied, ‘I do object, and I won’t make the change. You and I know that there is such a thing as divorce, and we know that a lot of marriages these days don’t last until one of the partners dies. But let me tell you something. If you go into marriage with an attitude of “If it doesn’t work out, we can always split’, then I can almost guarantee you that things won’t work out for you. ‘I appreciate your honesty. But you must understand that a marriage commitment is not just a mutual willingness to live together, but a commitment to accept the frustrations and disappointments that are an inevitable part of two imperfect human beings relating to each other. It’s hard enough to make a go of marriage even when you give it everything you’ve got. But if only a part of you is involved in the relationship, then you have virtually no chance’.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sundays and Holy Day Liturgies’

The enjoyment of simple things
In one of his books, Born Again, Charles Colson takes us back to a happy summer vacation he spent with his two sons. He bought them a 14-foot sailboat and took it out to the lake. When they arrived at the lake, a gentle summer rain was falling, but it didn’t dampen their spirits. As they shoved off the pier, the only sound that could be heard was the sound of rippling water. Colson’s ten-year old son was in control of the boat. When the boy realized he was skipper, the most marvelous look came upon his face. His eyes flashed with the excitement and wonder of knowing that in his two hands he was holding the power of the wind.  As Colson looked into his son’s face and eyes, he himself became transfixed and strangely he found himself talking to God. He still remembers his words: Thank you God for giving me this son, for giving us this wonderful moment. Just looking into this boy’s eyes fulfils my life. Whatever happens in the future, even if I die tomorrow, my life is complete and full. Thank You!” Indeed, on that rainy summer afternoon, Colson discovered for himself, something that spiritual writers have maintained: wonder lies at the heart of prayer and worship.
Mark Link

Why no change?
Mike was a Christian and his pal Joe was an atheist. Joe lost no opportunity to have a ‘go’ at Mike about what he saw as the irrelevance of Christianity. One day they were out for a walk when they came across a gang of ‘toughies’ who were fighting and swearing. Joe pointed out the scene and said, “Look Mike, it’s been 2000 years since Christ came into the world and it’s still filled with aggression and violence.” Mike said nothing. Five minutes later, they came upon a group of dirty faced children. Now it was Mike’s turn. “Look Joe, it’s over 2000 years since soap was first discovered and yet the world’s still filled with dirty faces.” – Nothing happens till you use soap! –There is nothing automatic about Jesus or his message. It is like discovering a cure for cancer. Nothing happens until the patient takes the medicine. Jesus never fails! It’s a pity we have never tried his message!
Jack McArdle in ‘150 More stories for Preachers and Teachers’


Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1)    Crime scene investigators (which we now know as "CSI") acknowledge that if all the witnesses to an event report exactly the same information there is only one conclusion to draw: They are lying. Human individuality, the uniqueness of individual perceptions and eye-witness, the unrepeatability of each person's own experience, makes it impossible for any group of individuals to see and report an event with the exact same language and coherence. If each rendition becomes a simply repetition - something is amiss.
The creation narratives found in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 should never be thought of as a scenario of "Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2." Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 do not offer some kind of contest to see whose world view wins. Instead, the biblical text is concerned to convey as much truth, to throw as much light as possible, into the relationship between God's creativity and our creaturely experience of creation. To discern the divine in our midst takes more than one voice.
What makes Scripture such a vital, life-giving force in our lives is that it is not a "mantra" of repetitious, unchanging, unvarying same-old-same-old series of words. Scripture lives because it tells a story, the greatest story ever told...
2)    A Modern Perspective on Jesus and the Children

 If it seems strange to you that people might usher the children away from Jesus, think about the last time you flew on an airplane. When the family with four small children came walking up the aisle, did you think, maybe not so secretly, "Please don't sit next to me, please don't sit next to me?"

Now imagine Jesus sitting a few rows up, waving down the flight attendant and volunteering to have all the children present sit around him for the duration of the flight..."Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
3)    Where Is the Hope?

I recently saw a newspaper cartoon of a mother reading a bedtime story to her little, curly-haired daughter. The book was called Grim Reality Fairy Tales, and the text read, "and the prince kissed her and they fell in love, dated a while and moved in together, broke up, got back together, got married, got a baby, got separated, got back together again, broke up, got divorced, spent time alone rediscovering themselves, met someone new, fell in love and repeated the pattern habitually ever after."
This worldview is sad, hopeless, and far from what God intended. More than ever, our children wonder what marriage is and what they might hope for in a relationship.
Steve Zeisler, What Did Moses Command?

4)    Don't Hope...Decide 

Michael Hargrove tells about a scene at an airport that literally changed his life. He was picking up a friend. He noticed a man coming toward him carrying two light bags. The man stopped right next to Hargrove to greet his family. The man motioned to his youngest son (maybe six years old) as he laid down his bags. They hugged and Hargrove heard the father say, "It's so good to see you, son. I missed you so much!" "Me, too, Dad!" said the son. The oldest son (maybe nine or ten) was next. "You're already quite the young man. I love you very much, Zach!" Then he turned to their little girl (perhaps one or one-and-a-half). He kissed her and held her close. He handed his daughter to his oldest son and declared, "I've saved the best for last!" and preceded to give his wife a long, passionate kiss. "I love you so much!" He said to his wife softly.

Hargrove interrupted this idyllic scene to ask, "Wow! How long have you two been married?"

"Been together fourteen years total, married twelve of those," the man replied, as he gazed into his wife's face.

"Well then, how long have you been away?"

The man turned around and said, "Two whole days!" Hargrove was stunned. "I hope my marriage is still that passionate after twelve years!"

The man stopped smiling and said, "Don't hope, friend . . . decide!"

And that's it, isn't it? For most of us it comes down to a decision. "Till death us do part." It doesn't happen in every relationship, but that is still the ideal that Jesus gives us.

Michael Hargrove, quoted by King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
 5)    Teaching Takes Time  

One of the biggest problems in a culture like ours is proper time management. This is not because we have any less time than others; it's because the alternatives are so many. Because we have money; because we have ease of transportation; because the urban centers we live in have much to offer us in ways to make use of our time - any of us can find ourselves in a situation where we can't possibly do everything that might be done. The opportunities become a blur; we find ourselves in a maze. Sorting out the minutes and hours becomes an awesome task. And in the process, people - those people around us who are dearest - escape our notice. Their needs go unmet, unserved. Many times those people are the little people - our children.

Some argue that our children do not need the quantity of our time if the time we give them is filled with quality. It's true. There's no need to give our children even fifteen minutes of our time, if all they experience through us is negativism or unrest or a spirit of impatience. But most good teaching takes sheer time. Our loving and caring spirit, our understanding and calmness, and our devotion to Jesus Christ in word and action, need to seep in to a child's mind and soul. Such sharing rarely comes through a quick torrent of kisses or a fleeting, kindly word. It takes time and patience. Indeed the very spending of time with our children is part of our communicating to them that they are valued and loved.

Richard W. Patt, Partners in the Impossible, CSS Publishing Co., Inc.
6) The True Meaning of Marriage 

In a Time Magazine article, Caitlin Flanagan observes that, while the divorce culture has become a fact of life over the past twenty-five years, the middle class has turned weddings into "overwrought exercises in consumer spending, as if by just plunking down enough cash for the flower girls' dresses and tissue-lined envelopes for the RSVP cards, we can somehow improve our chance of going the distance."
In our culture, marriage means less, but we spend more on our weddings. Go figure.
Flanagan concludes with these ominous words about the future of our country: "What we teach about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate." 

Scott Grant, The Way of the Lord in Marriage
7) Real Life Children 

The experience of having children has made me far more sympathetic to the early Puritans who didn't use words like "innate goodness" to describe human nature. They used words like "total depravity." Total depravity! Jesus said we are supposed to be like children to receive the kingdom of God? I can only join with millions of other parents and conclude that our Lord didn't know my kids when He made that statement.

When you walk into the bathroom and see an entire roll of brand new tissue paper lying in the toilet, it makes you wonder. When you see a whole pile of freshly washed and folded clothes lying all over the place like a tornado had hit, it makes you wonder. When you see your child sitting on the kitchen floor, trying to share her plate of food with the dog, it makes you wonder. And that's just the one-year-old at work! Imagine the three- and the six-year-old when they put their talents together! Sometimes it makes you more than wonder; sometimes it makes you cry.

Look at a group of kindergarteners some day and ask yourself: what can these kids teach us about receiving the kingdom of God?

Erskine White, Together In Christ, CSS Publishing Company
8) Responses to Divorce

 Jesus' teaching about divorce provokes a variety of responses. Some people hear the text snarl at them like a wild animal. Others grow angry when they simply hear the words, and vow to cross their fingers the next time they encounter that piece of scripture. Still others wish their preacher would stand up and swing this text like a club; family life is spinning out of control, they claim, and the church should push us back to simpler, more Victorian times.

It is no wonder many ministers avoid this text. One year the lectionary appointed it for World Communion Sunday, of all days. A clergy friend said, "I have a congregation full of divorced people. How dare I invite them to the Lord's table with a passage that sounds so fierce?" Another minister, a divorced woman, avoided the issue altogether. She ignored the first ten verses and moved directly ahead to discuss the blessing Jesus offered to little children.

So we have a problem today. Is there any way for all of us to hear something helpful in this text?

William G. Carter, No Box Seats in The Kingdom, CSS Publishing Company

9) Strange Arithmetic

 Dr. Paul Popenoe, the famous marriage counselor, was talking to a young husband who had been openly critical of his wife. Dr. Popenoe was explaining how two become one in marriage. In a smart reply the husband said, "Yes, but which one?" The counselor said, "A little of each." Then he went on to explain that in marriage you have to develop "we-psychology"...and to think of yourself in terms of a pair rather than as an individual. What happens when two become one in a real marriage? Some think that it reduces your individuality. Too often one party or the other seems to be saying: "Alright - we two shall become one...and I AM the one!" Obviously, such a marriage is headed for trouble. Ideally, when "two become one" it means that each one is doubled, but not duplicated. You still retain your individual identity, but you add to yourself the identity of the other, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (Mark 10:7)

A wise person once said: "A marriage consists of one master, one mistress, and two slaves; making, in total, one." That may be strange arithmetic, but it is good theology. 

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words,

 10) We Trust Them with the Children, Don't We?

 A new principal was checking over his school on the first day. Passing the stockroom, he was startled to see the door wide open and teachers going in and out, carrying off books and supplies. The school he came from had a check-out system that required the teachers to indicate what supplies they had obtained. Curious about the practice here he asked the school custodian, "Do you think it's wise to keep the stockroom unlocked and to let the teachers take things without asking?" The custodian responded, "We trust them with the children, don't we?"

Jesus wants us to trust in him and let the child within to be free. It is the only way to receive the kingdom of God. He wants us to give the child within the freedom to express itself, being creative, having fun and sharing emotions and feelings. He wants us to accept others who are different realizing that God makes us all and wants us to be genuine, authentic human beings. The end result is absolute joy and the opportunity to experience life in its fullest.

Keith Wagner, The Child Within

11) Two Schools of Thought on Divorce

There were two schools of thought in Jesus' day concerning divorce, one liberal and one conservative. Rabbi Shammai taught that divorce was only permissible on the grounds of some sexual impropriety. His was the stricter view. Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, had a more liberal view and taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. If she burned his breakfast, put too much salt on his food, showed disrespect to him, spoke disrespectfully of her husband's parents in his presence, spoke to a man on the street, or even let her hair down in public, he could divorce her. The view of Rabbi Hillel was the view that was popular in Jesus' day. So divorce was common in Palestine, and in this respect the setting was not unlike our own.

Perhaps the most significant difference between their customs and ours lay in the status of the different genders. A man could divorce a woman on a whim, but a woman could not divorce a man for any cause. The Old Testament contains a highly patriarchal position that viewed a woman's sexual immorality more as property damage against her husband (or her father) rather than as a moral issue. A double standard shines throughout the Old Testament, where it was not uncommon for the male rulers to have many wives and hundreds of concubines. If you look carefully at the question of the Pharisees, you will find no concern whatsoever about a woman's rights in marriage or divorce. "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

Mickey Anders, Making Marriage Work

12) Humor: We're Getting a Divorce 

Morris calls his son in NY and says, "Benny, I have something to tell you. However, I don't want to discuss it. I'm merely telling you because you're my oldest child, and I thought you ought to know. I've made up my mind, I'm divorcing Mama." The son is shocked, and asks his father to tell him what happened.

"I don't want to get into it. My mind is made up."

"But Dad, you just can't decide to divorce Mama just like that after 54 years together. What happened?"
"It's too painful to talk about it. I only called because you're my son, and I thought you should know. I really don't want to get into it anymore than this. You can call your sister and tell her. It will spare me the pain."

"But where's Mama? Can I talk to her?"

"No, I don't want you to say anything to her about it. I haven't told her yet. Believe me it hasn't been easy. I've agonized over it for several days, and I've finally come to a decision. I have an appointment with the lawyer the day after tomorrow."
"Dad, don't do anything rash. I'm going to take the first flight down. Promise me that you won't do anything until I get there."

"Well, all right, I promise. Next week is Yom Kippur. I'll hold off seeing the lawyer until after then. Call your sister in MA and break the news to her. I just can't bear to talk about it anymore."
A half hour later, Morris receives a call from his daughter who tells him that she and her brother were able to get tickets and that they and the children will be arriving in Florida the day after tomorrow. "Benny told me that you don't want to talk about it on the telephone, but promise me that you won't do anything until we both get there." Morris promises...

Isn't that the best way to get your kids together for Yom Kippur!

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
13)  "My husband and I divorced over religious differences.  He thought he was God and I didn't." 

14) A 98 year-old man and a 95 year-old woman went to a lawyer to get a divorce. How long have you been married?" he asked. "75 rough and rocky years," they said. "Then, why have you waited so long to file for divorce?" They replied, "We had to wait for the kids to die!"

15) “The secret of my success in my married life and in my business is the same, said, Henry Ford on the 50th anniversary of his wedding, I don’t change models every now and then; instead I stick on to one and try to improve it. 

16) A couple was being interviewed on their Golden Wedding  Anniversary. "In all that time -- did you ever consider divorce?" they were asked.  "Oh, no, not divorce," the wife said. "Murder sometimes, but never divorce." (Jack Benny, comedian) 

17) I never married because there was no need.  I have 3 pets at home which answer the same purpose as a husband:  I have a dog that growls every morning, a parrot which swears all afternoon and a cat that comes home late at night. 

18) Marriage is a three-ring circus: Engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.   At the cocktail party, one woman said to another, "Aren't you wearing your wedding ring on the wrong finger?" The other replied, "Yes I am; I married the wrong man."