October 2, 2015

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 4, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Marriage of the Virgin, Fiorentino, 1523 
(Click here for today’s readings)

In the story of creation we are told several times that “God saw that it was good.” There was only one exception: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

The first reading, from Chapter 2 of Genesis, spells out in greater detail what was stated in Chapter 1: “Male and female he created them.”

God’s plan is to make a “suitable partner” for the man. This expression is the latest in a long list of possible translations: “Help meet, a helper comparable to him, a helper who is just right for him, a helper suitable for him, a helper fit for him, a helpmate—his like, a helper as his counterpart.”

A commentator named Kaiser paraphrases the verse as follows: “I will make (the woman) a power (or strength) corresponding to the man.” He justifies this because the word translated as “help” or “partner” is used most often in the Bible in speaking of God. In Psalm 33:20, for example, we read: “Our soul waits for the Lord: he is our help and our shield,” where “help” is a manifestation of God’s power.

The man’s reaction on seeing the woman shows clearly that she is indeed his exact counterpart, exactly what he needed to be complete. “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is his way of saying she is, just as he is, made in the image and likeness of God. She is not an afterthought. She is what one commentary calls “the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God. She is the Master's finishing touch... breathtaking... the crown of creation.”

Each is then the other’s perfect counterpart and, for the writer of Genesis, herein lies the foundation of marriage.

The question of the Pharisees about divorce was a test, on a legal issue, not based at all on Genesis but on Deuteronomy. It isn’t clear why they raised the issue in the first place. Jesus seems to respond that Moses either missed the point altogether, or had a moment of weakness in allowing divorce. He concludes with the famous words, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

End of conversation. That is, there was no follow-up from the Pharisees. Either they did not object to his position, or they were dumbfounded, sorry they ever brought it up. The follow-up came from Jesus’ own disciples. His reply to them, comparing remarriage after divorce to adultery, is among the most counter-cultural of all of his sayings, unparalleled in the Jewish world in which he lived, unparalleled in the Gentile world to which Christianity later spread.

No one believes that divorce is an ideal. Over thirty years ago I was with a group attending the wedding of some common acquaintances. The spouses had composed their own marriage vows. The groom told the bride how he would love her and cherish her, and concluded with the phrase: “As long as we both shall love.” That is not a typographical error. He said “love,” not the expected “live.” The bride was obviously, and understandably, taken aback!

What couple getting married ever says, “We can’t wait to get divorced”?

Jesus’ teaching on divorce leaves us uncomfortable, because there are many good and healthy blended families resulting from many failed marriages. How are we to present Jesus’ teaching faithfully, clearly and honestly without leading to the conclusion that divorced persons must be bad people? They aren’t excommunicated, we know; but even more important, they are loved, just like everyone else, not only in spite of their faults, but with their faults.

Divorce is all around us, sad but true. That’s why there are now many support groups for separated and divorced Catholics, helping them deal with their suffering and get through their pain and confusion. The Church fully endorses this ministry

Jesus, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, is “not ashamed” to be one of us; in the Incarnation he became bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. Then he was made “perfect through suffering.” He suffered among, and for, those who suffer.

He became our “partner,” our “helper,” for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, in a union that not even death could put asunder.

No comments :