This Sunday brings us to reflect on marriage, particularly on divorce, a topic that attracts a great deal of debate. It’s an occasion for us to meditate on marriage and pray for couples so that they may live fulfilling and life-giving relationships.
Bible readings Genesis 2: 18–24 Psalm 128: 1–6 Hebrews 2: 9–11 Mark 10: 2–16
Layers around marriage
What comes into your mind when we speak of marriage? Many words float in my mind, with no order: relationship, love, laws, suffering, divorce, conflict, choice, culture, norms, religion, society, persons, man, woman, revolt, children… It amazes me to see here words that I normally do not associate with marriage. This makes me appreciate that marriage is not as simple at it may appear at first sight -it’s complex. So, I ask myself a question:
Where’s the couple in this?
When we consider all that can be said about marriage, think of the words evoked above, we realise that marriage is a maze -we can easily lose ourselves in it, especially today. Hence, at a certain point we may pose the question: but where’s the couple in this marriage? There seems to be too many, thick layers around it.
Marriage takes place in a particular society that has its own norms, practices and mentalities founded on certain deep convictions -like religion. And these are not static, but in constant evolution. We are in 2018, yet, different parts of the globe view and live marriage differently, even among those who share the same religion. In some places parents are still playing an upper hand in choosing the would-be partner for their child, while in others, they are luck if at all they are informed about the choice already made. Of course, that would depend on how society looks at it: where marriage is seen as affective, personal relationship you expect the couple itself taking things in hand. And where marriage is considered mostly as social institution, it’s the custodians of traditions who will run the show to the point that even those who are marrying may be relegated to mere instruments of the social function. In fact, we may share the same term marriage, and yet, the meanings are planets apart. Let’s look at one change.
Extent of secularisation
We are witnessing in many countries the revision of Laws regarding marriage, family and sexuality. The once so called Christian countries had laws founded on Christian ethics. Today, secularism is felt not only in drastic reduction of churchgoers but also in ousting Christian reflection as basis of what’s considered right or wrong. Consequently, we can no longer take certain things for granted as before. Why do I take time talking about all these things? Simply because these are the layer linings that are coating the way marriage is lived today, be it for Christians or non-Christians -we are all affected in a way. The various layers around marriage make me think of a car wheel that has accumulated mud around it. That says a lot about marriage.
Loss of shape and grip
The wheel that is covered with mud loses its perfect circular shape and the grip with the ground is minimal, rendering it difficult to control the car because it skids. Similarly, because of the layers that have accumulated around marriage over history, in terms of mentality, laws and practice, there’s a risk of losing what’s essential about it. So, how can we preserve what’s precious? That’s the good news we can find in this Sunday’s word of God.
Question of the Pharisees
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The question is not innocent. Not simply because it’s meant to trap Jesus but also the fact that it’s a question that’s borne from the conception of marriage that has seen several coatings from interpretations and revised regulations. Here again we have the wheel covered in mud. But Jesus’ response is genius. Jesus refuses not only to add another layer of interpretation, but he also refuses to be dragged into a polemic. It’s like he’s telling the Pharisees: hey, stop! The wheels of your car are full of mud -you need to do some scrubbing. He proposes to go back to where it all began -as we see in the first reading.
God wills happiness for his people
God doesn’t want to abandon a man to loneliness, so he brings animals and birds; but nothing quenches man’s thirsty for company. His heart delights only when one like him, Eve, is brought. Here we are not in the dynamic of power or hierarchy; but two persons who are equal and who delight in their friendship. So being faithful in marriage is nothing other than fulfilling God’s plan of love in a way member of the couple relate to each other. What does that imply? We fall short in faithfulness when life-giving companionship is missing, even if there’s no sexual relationship outside marriage involved. The sign of faithfulness is when the couple lives in love, each one devoted to the wellbeing of the other, hence, we can talk of mutual care and mutual concern. Who would not want such kind of relationship to last? Who would wish to pull out of such a nourishing relationship?
However, we shouldn’t be naïve. Some people haven’t had the joy of a life-giving married relationship. Due to certain factors, some marriages have just broken up despite the efforts put in. For those who have had such sour experience, fidelity in a long-lasting marriage may be lived like a burden. Our thoughts and prayers for them!
Return to where it all began
Whatever state your marriage is in, it’s likely that along the years it may have also accumulated some coating that may not be helpful. As result, you too may be slowly losing sight of what’s central to your relationship. It’s for this reason Jesus proposes a retreat: go back and refuel your relationship from the source. It’s your happiness that God wills in your marriage. If that’s not there, what could be the things preventing your marriage from flourishing? Going back to the source may include also reflecting on those early days when you, and your partner, decided to get married; in those early experiences you may find new energy that can help your marriage gain a new momentum for the happiness of your couple.
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