Sunday, October 04, 2009
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
Sisters and brothers, have you ever come across that bumper sticker with the message about marriage? You know the one I’m referring to. It goes something like this: No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished! Many of us laugh when we come across it. I’m one of those who do. We find it funny because, of course, there is a double meaning to the word finished.
The first meaning is the obvious romantic one. It’s the one that people often use at the beginning of intimate relationships. It’s the meaning that Tom Cruise was using in the feel-good movie Jerry Maguire. In a particularly popular scene, after Jerry tells Dorothy, his secretary, that he loves her, he immortalizes in movie history these marvelously mushy (some might say cheesy), yet amazingly effective words: you complete me. You complete me, he says. In other words, you finish me.
The other meaning is the very opposite of the first. If the first is often used at the birth of relationships, then the second is usually voiced when they die. It’s the meaning that Meryl Streep had in mind in that scene from the movie Kramer vs Kramer, where Streep’s character, Joanna, is in the process of leaving Ted, her workaholic husband. Ted desperately tries to coax Joanna back into their apartment. But she responds by pleading with her soon to be ex-husband in these words: Please don’t make me go in there… If you do, I swear, one day, next week, maybe next year, I don’t know, I’ll go right out the window. I’ll go right out the window. In other words, if I go back to our marriage, I’m finished.
Finished: one simple word with two very different meanings. And it is the context, the circumstances, that determine which one is intended. Jerry Maguire or Kramer vs Kramer. Romance or divorce. Completion or death.
No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished!
More than just a (hopefully) snazzy opening for a homily, this line also happens to highlight a connection that we find in our readings today, if we look hard enough. It is a connection between two questions: on the one hand, the question about the meaning of marriage and, on the other hand, the question regarding what it means to be a complete human being.
I say if we look hard enough because, at first glance, the main message of the gospel appears to be nothing more than the prohibition of divorce. And Jesus does indeed speak out against the Mosaic law that allowed a man to divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons, not least because, as scholars tell us, this same law could result in the abuse and exploitation of women. But Jesus’ response to the Pharisees takes the conversation to a whole different level. Like the Kramers in the movie, and others faced with the painful task of negotiating the death of a relationship, the Pharisees are concerned with the Law. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? And in many circumstances this can, of course, be a legitimate concern. For instance, even as we Catholics continue to uphold Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, Canon Law also admits certain narrow exceptions, such as the so-called Pauline Privilege. Also, there may be certain situations in which a civil divorce might well be a prudent course of action for a Catholic, provided that s/he does not remarry.
Even so, to remain with the Pharisees (and the Kramers) at the level of the law would give us too narrow a view of what our scripture readings are saying to us today. For, in the gospel, Jesus’ concern is not just with the ending of marriages, legal or otherwise, but also, more importantly, with the beginning of creation. Referring to the book of Genesis, Jesus invites us to consider not only what it tells us about the true meaning of marriage, but even beyond that, also about how one becomes a complete human being.
As we heard in our first reading, more than a simple contractual alliance, more than just a joint checking account, or a shared double bed, the true meaning of marriage is a profound union in which two people become one flesh. In a sense, they are no longer two but one – sharing a common origin, a new creation. And this process of union is also a process of completion. For notice the circumstances in which the first man and the first woman come together. Notice how, at the beginning of the reading, even though the man has already been created, he is not quite complete. God says: It is not good for the man to be alone. And notice too, how the completion of the man is brought about. The process is rather different from what Jerry Maguire might have had in mind. It is not a filling of some inner void in the man by some external creature. The attempt to do this with the animals fails. They are found to be unsuitable. They do not have enough in common with the man. He can only exert mastery over them, but no true partnership can be formed. No true intimacy is experienced. The man remains lonely. It is only when he falls into a deep sleep and gives up something of himself that success is achieved. Quite paradoxically, completion comes with self-donation, and with completion, communion. He gives up a rib and the two become one flesh.
It is at this point that we finally arrive at the crux of what the scriptures are saying to us today. For, as you well know, the early Fathers of the Church delighted in drawing parallels between the creation of the first man and the crucifixion of Christ. Just as the first man fell into a deep sleep in which the first woman was formed from his rib, so too did Christ fall into the sleep of death on the Cross, during which the Church was born from the blood and water that flowed out of his pierced side. Also, as the second reading reminds us, just as the first man became complete and came to share a new common origin with the first woman, by giving something of himself, so too was Christ made perfect through suffering, such that he who consecrates and those who are being consecrated – you and I – all have one origin.
It becomes clear then, sisters and brothers, that the scriptures have something important to say to us today regardless of whether or not we have ever been married or divorced, regardless of whether we are women or men. For, as baptized Christians, we are all members of the Church of Christ, the same Church that the Lord formed through his sacrifice on the Cross, the same Church that is destined to become his bride when he comes again. And, as members of this Church, whether married or single, separated or divorced, female or male, we are all called to perfection in Christ by imitating him in giving of ourselves to others.
No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished!
Sisters and brothers, both as individual Christians and as Church, how might the Lord be drawing us further towards completion today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 3:03 pm