A Difficult and Controversial Gospel

(Homily for Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B)

Bottom line: This a difficult and challenging teaching. It requires courage and humility, but is worth any sacrifice. The stakes could not be higher: as Jesus states, the kingdom of God.

Today we have a difficult and controversial Gospel. Jesus declares the life-long permanence of marriage. He does it with language that perhaps make us flinch: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her." These words upset Jesus' hearers and they upset people today.

Before addressing Jesus' teaching on marriage, I would like take a step back and consider their context. This dramatic teaching flows from what Jesus has been telling us in recent weeks:

First, Jesus announces his own suffering, death - and resurrection, then he tells us that each must take up his own cross and follow him. Peter tries to dissuade Jesus and Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan." The other apostles also misunderstand Jesus. They start arguing about who is greatest. Jesus then places a child in front of them and tells them they must become like little children.

No little child can claim independence. He always belongs to someone else, normally his parents or someone who represents them. For that reason we have a commandment that says, "Honor your father and mother." For a young man the most important person should be his father and mother.

Marriage, however, changes that. Jesus quotes the book of Genesis: "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."

When a man marries, his wife takes first place. Not all understand this. I know a guy whose young wife prepared a special meal for him. "It's OK," he said, "but my mom makes it better!" That guy hasn't left his mother.

Now, we must always honor mother and father, but when a man marries, he no longer belongs to his parents. He belongs to his wife. And she to him. The two become "one flesh."

The two can become one flesh precisely because God made us male and female. As Blessed Pope John Paul observed, our bodies have a language. The very shape of our bodies as men and women speaks of self-giving and receptivity. Becoming one flesh is so real that it can result in the creation of a new human person.

In marriage the man and woman belong completely to each other. Living this reality is difficult. I told once you about the woman who said, "Father, I want to be a humble wife, but it is hard...because he is always wrong and I am always right."

"I know," I said, "but try to be a humble wife anyway."

And it is not easy for a husband to practice the humility of Christ. He gave himself utterly for his bride, the Church. He did so to the last drop of his blood. So must a husband give his life to protect, defend and care for his wife - and family.

Many people are saying today that marriage is finished. Young people prefer to simply live together and when they do marry, those marriages seem so fragile. And, along with all that, a growing number want to redefine marriage so that it has it does not require being male and female, but any two adults who have a strong, mutual attraction.*

Should we just raise the white flag, admit defeat and focus our energy somewhere else?** That is tempting, but we need to look at Jesus' example. Marriage was in pretty bad shape in his time. As we heard, Moses allowed a man to simply write a note to dismiss his wife. And in the Roman Empire marriage was in decline. The Emperor Augustus tried to strengthen traditional marriage, but with little effect.

But Jesus does not give in to discouragement. He sees beyond immediate troubles and goes back to the very beginning. Elections are important, but we will not win this battle at the polling booth. The spiritual war - as we saw last week - is going on in the human heart. Particularly the hearts of our young people - and if I can speak bluntly - the hearts of our young men.

Why do young men spend so much time playing video games? For sure, the games are entertaining, but they also appeal to something else: a young man's instinct to go into battle, to fight and protect. God put that instinct in a young man to protect and care for a wife and children.***

Jesus said, "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." This a difficult and challenging teaching. It requires courage and humility, but is worth any sacrifice. The stakes could not be higher: as Jesus states, the kingdom of God. Amen.


*The argument boils down to this: To not allow two men or two women to marry is discriminatory as in the days when we did not allow marriage between two races. Thus those who oppose same-sex marriage are guilty of bigotry, discrimination and hatred.

Our counter-argument is that it is not only allowable, but required to discriminate between things that are truly different - such as apples and oranges. The Bible (like all ancient literature) pays little, if any, attention to race or skin color. (I am open to correction, but I know of only three times in the Bible when skin color is even mentioned.) Unlike the modern world, the Bible does not use race to identify people. It refers to Egyptians, Ethiopians, Persian Greeks, etc., but not "white" and "black" - or other colors. And of course among all nations and cultures, it distinguishes between men and women. Unlike skin color, that difference matters greatly.

Bottom line: Skin color is superficial, sexuality is profound. The institution of marriage follows from that profound (but complementary) difference: "Male and female he made them..." (Always remembering, of course, our fundamental equality: "In the image of God he created them..." - Gen 1:27)

**For those who feel we are fighting a rear-guard action, please consider these encouraging words: "The family is the 'foundation of social life' but it is "threatened in many places by a faulty conception of human nature," the Pope said Sept. 21. The defense of the family and of human life promotes "values that allow the full development of the human person created in the image and likeness of God." It is "not at all backward-looking but prophetic."

***Or, for a few ("we happy few, we band of brothers"), to represent Christ in defending and caring for his bride. And, certainly for all men, a call to some degree of spiritual fatherhood.

Spanish Version

From Archives (27th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Discernment in Action Week 1: Masculinity & Femininity
2012: A Difficult and Controversial Gospel
2009: Male and Female He Made Them
2006: What God Has Joined
2003: Nuptial Meaning of Human Body

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