An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Mark 10:2-16, October 7, 2012
WHEN ONE IS joined in marriage ceremony, he is usually filled with hope and expectation, with joy and happiness. In the weeks or months that follow, he continues to have the confidence that he had made the right decision; he thinks that he has chosen the best partner he could ever have. Soon, however, that dream-world stage expires; he discovers that the woman he has married is not what he thought her to be. Then, the trouble starts. The crack in the wall of what seemed once a fortress begins to show. And when the going gets tough, there is always the temptation to call it quits, without our realizing that after all the one he has married is a human being, full of imperfection, faults, warts and all. Thus, he tends to assume as his very own the question that the Pharisees posed to Jesus: “Is it permissible for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2).
Needless to say, when we, either as husband or wife, begin to ask that question, it is a tacit admission that we have failed to live according to God’s original intention. “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become as one. They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore let no man separate what God has joined” (Mark 10:8-9). Instead of living according to God’s intent, we wish to follow the dictate of our hardened heart. Probably under the influence of our day-to-day business, we tend to think that marriage is simply a contract between two individuals. As in a purchase of a stereo or car, we want to have our money back, if not satisfied with the commodity.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 10:2-16), Jesus clarifies to us something about marriage. First of all, it is not simply a contract between two individuals. First and foremost, it is God’s gift. Like other injunctions in the Old Testament, it is an expression of God’s care for his people. At the basis of it is God’s loving concern for each one of us. Therefore, when God says that “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one body” (Gen 1:24), this was not given to make man unhappy or bind him in legalism. Rather, this is connected with his observation in the 1st Reading that “it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him” (Gen 2:18). God’s will is always our happiness. But because it is a gift, we can only benefit from it if we live it according to God’s intention. Therefore, in marriage we have to discern the will of God as we live it—namely, one has to make a gift of himself or herself to his or her partner unconditionally and in love. That is the essence of being constituted as “one flesh”. If we do not act on God’s will for us in marriage, we can hardly expect to experience what God has promised.
Moreover, precisely because it is God’s gift, marriage is not for every one. When the disciples, having heard of their Master’s reply to the Pharisees on the question of divorce, observed that it was better not to marry, the Matthean Jesus noted that “not everyone can accept this teaching, only those to whom it is given to do so. Some men are incapable of sexual activity from birth; some have been deliberately made so; and some there are who have freely renounced sex for the sake of God’s reign. Let him accept this teaching who can” (Matt 19:11-12). One therefore does not marry because tradition demands it; he must first of all discern whether he or she has the gift. Certainly, there are people who are married but should not have married in the first place. Some people should not marry because physically they are incapable of living a married life. Others should not, because psychologically, they are unprepared to live it, even if they think they are. Still others are too selfish to be capable of giving a gift of himself. Being a man or a woman is not a sufficient qualification for marriage. It remains a gift, and not everyone has it.
But there is another point that should not be missed in today’s Gospel. It is to be noted that the pericope on the question of divorce, as far as Mark’s editorial hand is concerned, is placed within the section on discipleship. In this section, Jesus taught his disciples what it means to follow the Messiah in his footsteps (Mark 8:27-10:52). Mark’s point is quite obvious. Marriage is a form of discipleship. If this is correct, then whatever is said of discipleship must apply to marriage, because discipleship is expressed in it. For this reason, it is in marriage that we can concretize the demands of denying ourselves, taking up the cross, following Jesus in his footsteps, and losing our lives. Consequently, while marriage is intended for our happiness, it is, paradoxically, likewise a vocation to suffering. In marriage we also undertake the journey to Calvary. Therefore, when the going gets tough, we should all the more give expression to the cross of Christ.
It is not without reason that the marriage rite stresses that the bond is “for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in death.” We can always expect negative experiences in marriage. We shall experience difficulties and sufferings as we follow Jesus in discipleship. But these sufferings and difficulties could be opportunities for growth and deepening of love and happiness. For as the 2nd Reading assures us: the experience of suffering and death leads to glory. It is through suffering that we perfect the work of happiness and salvation (Heb 2:9-10).