daily biblical sermons


JESUS RESTORES GOD'S ORIGINAL PLAN FOR MARRIAGE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, 27th Sunday of the Year, October 07, 2018
Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 127, Hebrews 2:9-11, Mark 10:2-16


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?' He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?' They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.' But Jesus said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart 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.' So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.'


"And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And 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'" (Mark 10:2-11).


Jesus, in today's gospel reading, presents a stunning message to his contemporaries, as well as to people today. He tells them that marriage is indissoluble, and therefore that divorce and remarriage is adultery.


This went very much against the Jewish understanding in Jesus day. It even went against what was permitted by the law of Moses itself, where divorce and remarriage was permitted and accepted, as long as the man wrote out a certificate of divorce, indicating that he no longer wanted his wife. She was then free to marry someone else (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).


Jesus, however, does not allow for divorce from a valid marriage, followed by remarriage. He said:


"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mark 10:11-12).


Those who divorce and remarry are committing adultery, a grave sin. Since marriage is an ongoing state of life, divorced and remarried people are living in a constant state of grave sin that alienates them from God and is punishable in hell for all eternity if they do not genuinely repent (stop sinning) before they die.


But how does Jesus justify this sharp break from the Jewish custom, based on the Mosaic law itself that permitted divorce and remarriage? Jesus says that divorce and remarriage was a concession granted by Moses for human weakness, for their "hardness of heart" (Mark 10:5), but that it wasn't God's original plan for marriage, when he created man and woman before the fall. Jesus then quotes Genesis 2:24:


"Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).


Jesus makes it clear that in the kingdom of God on earth, which he is establishing, God's original plan for marriage is being restored. He says:


"So then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together let not man separate" (Mark 10:8b-9 NKJV).


The so-called "exception clause" in St. Matthew's gospel does not refer to a valid marriage, but to two people living together who are not validly married, because they are close relatives. Such unions are not permitted by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 18:6-18), and so Jesus regards them as fornication (porneia) or unchaste sinful unions, not as true valid marriages. In such a union the two partners may (and should) separate (divorce) and then they are free to validly marry someone else. Here is Matthews's exception clause:


"Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity [porneia], and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9).


If Jesus were referring to an exception from a valid marriage in the case of one of the parties committing adultery with someone else, we would expect him to have used the word adultery (moicheia), not fornication or unchastity (porneia), which is the word that he uses.


This is the way that the Catholic Church has always, and still does, understand this exception clause in St. Matthew's gospel. So in Jesus' teaching about divorce and remarriage, there is no exception from a valid marriage.


The only exception is the one permitted by the New Testament, which St. Paul makes for a Christian married to a non-Christian. In such a case, if the unbelieving spouse wants to separate, he or she may, and the believing partner is free to remarry someone else:


"But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace" (1 Corinthians 7:15).


So this is Jesus' radical departure from the concession that Moses permitted, due to the Israelites' "hardness of heart" (human weakness). Jesus restores God's original plan for marriage, which is that marriage is indissoluble.


"They [the Pharisees] said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.' But Jesus said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart 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.' So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder'" (Mark 10:4-9).


St. Paul also makes it clear that if a spouse of a Christian marriage separates from his partner, he must remain single or be reconciled with his wife. He cannot marry another woman.


"To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) - and that the husband should not divorce his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).


For the last two and a half years the Catholic Church has been in a state of crisis over this biblical teaching that we are reflecting on today. Many of our highest Church leaders are now revolting against this normative biblical teaching that divorce and remarriage (without an annulment) is the grave sin of adultery. This is a serious departure from normative biblical revelation.


Some are teaching that since God is merciful, he calls some people in complex life situations to break his normative biblically revealed moral law and live in a state of adultery, because he sees that it would be too hard for them to keep his biblically revealed moral law. So when these people divorce and remarry (without an annulment) they are not guilty of any sin, because it is God himself who is calling them to divorce and remarry and to live in a constant state of adultery.


These new teachers are now saying that not only are they not guilty of any sin, but they are, in fact, growing in grace, virtue, and holiness by committing and living in adultery, because they are doing God's will, for in their case it is God himself who wants them to commit and live in adultery, and he is leading and inspiring them to do so.


This then leads these Church leaders to now teach that there is, therefore, no reason to prohibit such people from regularly receiving the Eucharist, since they are not guilty of any sin and are, in fact, growing in grace, virtue, and holiness by living in a constant state of adultery. Thus, for these new teachers, St. Paul's warning against receiving the Eucharist unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-29) doesn't apply to these people, for their sin of adultery is not considered sinful by God in their case, and thus it does not make them unworthy to receive the Eucharist


But these new teachers also say that before receiving the Eucharist, such adulterous couples must first enter into a process of accompaniment and discernment with their pastor to help them realize that they are not committing any sin at all by daily committing the deadly sin of adultery, by having a sexual relationship with a woman who is not their valid wife.


If, through this accompaniment and discernment, the adulterous couple feels at peace with God in their conscience and is convinced that adultery for them is no sin, but a virtue, then, these new teachers now say, they should be welcomed by their pastor to regularly receive the Eucharist and also the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23) without the necessary intention of immediately amending their life.


Furthermore, according to this new teaching, these adulterous couples need not genuinely repent of their objectively sinful way of life (need not stop sinning), but may continue living in adultery, for God is merciful and wants them to live like this, since he knows that it would be too hard for them to do otherwise, at least for now.


But this new teaching, contravening normative New Testament revelation, is, of course, completely false and is the denial of all authentic Christian morality. Adultery is gravely sinful, and unrepentant adulterers are in danger of jeopardizing their eternal salvation.


Those who are living in this sinful state of adultery need to be accompanied in a genuine process of discernment not to help them to realize that they are not sinning, but to help them to amend their life and to bring it into accord with God's normative biblically revealed moral law, which as justified Christians they are now enabled and obliged to keep.


Until they amend their life, they may not receive the Eucharist or the sacrament of reconciliation, that is to say, until they are ready to genuinely repent (stop sinning) and amend their life, or at least live in continence as brother and sister, for if they have not repented of their sinful state, they would defile the body and blood of the Lord, as St. Paul says:


"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

 

 

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