Sunday, October 07, 2012

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Between Marriage & Completion (Version 2)

(See version 1)

Sisters and brothers, have you ever heard that saying about marriage? You know, the one that goes something like this: No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished! Many of us laugh when we hear it. I’m one of those who do. We find it funny because there is, of course, 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 the actor Tom Cruise was using in the feel-good movie entitled Jerry Maguire. In a particularly popular scene, after Jerry tells Dorothy, his secretary, that he loves her, he mouths these marvellously mushy (some might say cheesy), yet amazingly effective words: You complete me, he tells her. You complete me. Or, in other words, you finish me.

The other meaning of the word finish is the very opposite of the first. If the first is often used at the birth of relationships, then the second is usually expressed when they die. It’s the meaning that the actress 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. At one point, 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 you make me go back to our marriage, I’m finished.

Finished: one word with two very different meanings. And it is the context, the situation, that determines 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) interesting opening for a homily, this line also happens to highlight a connection that we find in our Mass readings today. If we look hard enough. It is a connection between two questions. The first question has to do with the meaning of marriage. And the second question has to do with 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 also takes the conversation to a whole different level. Like the Kramers in the movie, and many others who have to face the painful task of dealing with a dying relationship, the Pharisees are concerned with the Law. Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife? They want to know. And this is, of course, an important question. In many circumstances, this is a legitimate concern. For instance, even as we Catholics continue to uphold Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, we also know that Canon Law permits certain narrow exceptions to the rule, 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 even for a Catholic, provided that s/he does not remarry.

Even so, to remain with the Pharisees at the level of the law would give us too narrow a view of what our scripture readings are saying to us today. After all, how many of us here are married? I know I’m not. Do our readings not have anything to say to the unmarried? The answer is yes, they do. 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 the true meaning of marriage, but also the process by which 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 body. In a sense, they are no longer two but one – sharing a new common origin. When they marry, something new is created. 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 that the man should be alone. And notice too, how the completion of the man is brought about. The process is rather different from that portrayed in many romantic movies like Jerry Maguire. It is not a matter of the filling up 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 away something of himself that success is achieved. Quite paradoxically, completion results from self-donation. And with completion comes communion. The man gives up a rib for the sake of the woman, and the two become one body.

It is at this point that we finally arrive at the crux of what the scriptures are saying to us today. This is the true connection between the meaning of marriage and the completion of a human being. 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 profound slumber of death on the Cross, during which the Church was born from the blood and water that flowed from his pierced side. Also, as the second reading reminds us, just as the first man was completed, by giving something of himself, so too was Christ made perfect through suffering. And, just as the first man came to share a new common origin with the first woman, so too did Christ, the one who sanctifies, and all of us, the ones who are sanctified, come to share in the same stock.

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 baptised 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 in some way.

In this sense, none of us is complete until we get married. Only then are we finished. Only then are we made holy. Only then are we saved.

Sisters and brothers, both as individual Christians and as Church, how might the Lord be drawing us further towards completion today?


  1. I have become closer to God after ending my marriage. During the marriage, I was too busy rushing around to talk to God. In the aftermath of my failed marriage, I am more complete as a person as I have recovered more of my original identity, which I had buried and suppressed to please my husband. I thought that by accomodating him, I could sustain the marriage. Alas, it was not enough. Now that I don't have to suppress myself accomodate him, it is such a relief.

  2. All I know is that I met Mr Hyde just when I thought I was meeting Dr Jekyll. Yes, Mr Hyde was ever ready to give his judgement of my character even though we have not communicated properly for a long time. And even after all that miscommunication, Mr Hyde simply continued to talk at me and didn't really bother to listen much or to clarify matters even though I've tried a long time to speak with him. What empty words! Concern, put God at the centre, be a giving person, etc and yet while I grieved, he kept telling me I'm being self-centered. How could I ever trust such a person again?


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