October 8, 2000 -- 27th Sunday "B"
Abbey of La Oliva, Spain -- during the Spanish Regional Conference
Gen 2, 18-24; Heb 2, 9-11; Mark 10, 2-16
H O M I L Y
Sexuality is such an essential part of human nature, and the relationship between men and women has such an impact on the development of any society, especially through the procreation of children, that all societies have elaborated very rigid codes regulating the exercise of sexuality. Even in societies that we consider primitive and that seem to us extremely permissive, that regulation through various forms of taboos and of social conventions is extremely rigid. All this is part of the growth of humankind towards full humanization. The law of Moses, and its interpretation by the various generations of rabbis was part of that human process ‑‑under the inspiration of the Spirit of God.
Anyone reading the Bible with a fundamentalist approach will have a hard time formulating any coherent biblical teaching concerning sexuality and marriage. At first sight, there seems to be a whole lot of incoherent teaching.
A text like the description of creation in chapters 2‑3 of Genesis looks at the distinction between the two sexes from a male point of view, seeing woman simply as a helper for man; while the Canticle of Canticles will describe a beautiful love relationship between two persons, equally autonomous. Some texts extol the blessing of God on the patriarchs ‑‑ blessing manifest in their numerous progeny, from various wives and concubines -- while other texts impose monogamy as God's law. The law of Moses allowed a man to send away his wife, for various reasons, not only if she was adulterous but also and most especially if she had not given him the children he expected from her. Jesus affirms clearly the indissolubility of marriage. Beyond all these apparent contradictions there is really one doctrine, but a doctrine that was gradually growing with humankind, as humankind was growing in humanity. And that teaching found its final expression with Jesus.
But here we have to be very careful if we don't want to miss the point. In this question as in all the other ones, Jesus is not simply giving a final touch to the old Law. Nor is he formulating a new law more demanding, more rigid than the old one. He is putting the whole question on a completely different level. It is no longer a question of law, it is a question of relationship, that is, a question of love.
In the law of Israel, there were many circumstances in which, according to the usual interpretation, a man could, and in many cases should dismiss his wife; which was, in most cases, a real injustice against the wife. Jesus refuses to give an interpretation of that law. He rather obliges his questioners to understand God's original intention in creating human being as male and female, after his own image. His intention was to call them to share his own nature, that is, love. They will leave their father and mother, and they will become attached to one another, and they will become one, just as God is one. Since what unites them is love, and God is love, what unites them is by nature eternal.
And because of this, the teaching of that passage goes much beyond reminding us of the indissolubility of marriage. It reminds us that every human relationship is a covenant that by its nature has a dimension of eternity. It is eternal in that sense that every time I have established a relationship with a person or with a community, whatever happens, I cannot undo the past, I cannot cause that relationship not to have existed. It may change. Love may be transformed into indifference or unfortunately in some cases into hate. But it cannot not have existed, and it always keeps all its demands.
Whether we are married people or celibates, this Gospel has the same message for all of us: In our lives we constantly make all kinds of commitments. And every human relationship implies such a commitment. Any breach of a commitment is a sin against God, not because we have broken a law or a contract, but because by breaking a commitment we try to undo what is by its nature eternal. Every authentic relationship is somehow a form of love and love is eternal.
Most of the problems of modern society ‑‑ divorce, abortion, war ‑‑ can be solved only by generating more love and by impregnating the social and economic structures of our society with love. There are people who think that all the problems concerning divorce will be resolved by a stricter legislation; or that problems concerning abortion will be resolved by putting the label "criminal" on those who are involved in it, or that the problems of fidelity to religious commitments will be resolved by making it more difficult to be dispensed... All these juridical solutions can obviously give good conscience to those who don't face the same problems. But Jesus' answer was much simpler and much more effective. And his answer was, to sum it up in a few words: "Never forget the demands of love."