“The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man”

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 2:18 - 24

The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called 'woman, ' for out of 'her man’ this one has been taken." That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.

Hebrews 2:9 - 11

Brothers and sisters: He "for a little while" was made "lower than the angels, " that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.”

Mark 10:2 - 16

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him. He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?" They replied, "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

I remember a movie which I watched many years ago. It was called The Last Married Couple in America, a comedy about a couple who started to doubt their own marriage when every couple they knew separated. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the origin of marriage and its institutor, “God Himself is the author of marriage” (GS 48 Par 1, cf Mk 10:9). He has given its meaning in His divine plan and in His order of creation. While various forms of marriage exist in different cultures and societies, the fundamental truth and characteristics of marriage are common and universal (cf CCC 1603).

Perhaps it is good to revisit the true notion of marriage in our Catholic faith. The Scripture begins with a very positive vision of marriage in the creation of a man and a woman. They are more than companion or partner, they are bone and flesh of each other (Gen 2:23). In this aspect, they are to live in mutual love, respect and unity. This matrimonial union also demands indissolubility, fidelity and fecundity (CCC 1643, FC 13). In the Old Testament, God’s relationship with His chosen people was described (mostly through the prophets) in covenantal and spousal language (Is 54, 62; Hos 1-3; Jer 2-3, 31; Ezek 16, 23; Song of Songs), signifying that a marital bond is by nature a covenant, “the covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man” (CCC 1639). This was to prepare for the new and everlasting covenant which will be brought forth by Jesus Christ the bridegroom (Jn 3:29; Mt 9:15, 25:1) who invites us all to the “wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7, 9, 21:9).

The fullest expression of the truth of Christ’s redeeming love in the analogy of spousal marriage is found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-32 (MD 23). Thus “Christ has added to marriage the dignity of a sacrament” (Arcanum 23, CIC 1055) and therefore Christian marriage is sacred and ecclesial in nature. It is sacred because it is sealed and sanctified by the Author Himself who bestows on it grace and blessing. It is ecclesial because it is a visible sign of consent and commitment of mutual self giving (GS 22, TOB) in the presence of the faith community, a reflection of the very essence of the Trinitarian life of love and communion. “The great mystery of Christ giving Himself for His beloved spouse, the Church……takes us back to creation, to God as Creator, and into the very Mystery of the Holy Trinity, three Persons, One in love, the ultimate source of all love and union” (Peter Elliott).

What underlies that seemingly funny phenomenon in the movie is in fact a tragedy—–a tragedy which arises from unclear or false perception of marital union (cf Arcanum 27). Love which depends solely on feelings and emotions is not reliable. It can change and erode over time. Love is a commitment of being faithful just as God has committed Himself to be faithful to His covenant and to His people (Deut 7:8-9; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; Ps 86:15; Lam 3:22-23). Let us not be swayed from the truth of marriage like the couple in the movie but adhere to the promise we made on the day when we said “I do”.

GS: Gaudium et spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Second Vatican Council, 1965)
FC: Familiaris Consortio (Pope John Paul II 1981 Apostolic Exhortation)
CIC: Code of Canon Law (1983)
Arcanum (Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, 1880)
TOB: Theology of the Body (Pope John Paul II)

Peter Elliott: What God has Joined: The Sacramentality of Marriage, Homebush: NSW; St. Paul Publications, 1990, P.4.

Posted: October 4, 2015

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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