God reveals himself to us as a God of eternal and faithful love, a God who enters into a covenant of love with his people. His intention from the beginning was that we his people respond to him with wholehearted love and imitate his faithful love in our relationships with one another. To give us a vivid image of what he means by love, he instituted the great gift of marriage, in which “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh,” as we read in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis.
The mystery of a man and a woman “becoming one flesh” is intended to express and reflect the profound unity that God desires with us in his covenant of love. Through his prophets, God often uses the language of marriage to describe his relationship with his people. He is the husband and we are his bride. For example, the prophet Isaiah tells us: “Your husband will be your Maker” (Is 54:5). God wants the faithful and loving relationship between him and his people to be reflected in every marriage, for his glory and for the good of human race.
Unfortunately, God’s original plan for marriage has not been fully accepted, even by the Chosen People, because of the hardness of the human heart. Jesus points out to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment” – the permission for husbands to divorce their wives. “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 flesh.” When the Pharisees ask him whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife, Jesus quickly uses the opportunity to call them back to God’s original intention for marriage which, over and above procreation, is to mirror the covenant of love that he makes with us.
Jesus also says plainly that for a husband or a wife to divorce and then marry someone else is to commit adultery. In our times, this strong teaching against divorce and remarriage sounds to many people as terribly unrealistic and even intolerable, shockingly insensitive to the many people whose marriages have failed. However, Jesus is not simply laying heavy burdens on us. He is revealing what marriage really is, and he is also pointing to its deeper meaning.
In our union with him, the Lord will never divorce us, no matter how unfaithful we might be. Any separation between us is caused by our hardness of heart, when we choose selfish desires rather than love. Sin causes a division between us that God never wanted; he cannot tolerate division in his family. So, in his unfathomable mercy, he has already taken on the problem of sin. As today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, God sent his Son to “taste death” for the sake of everyone, “bringing many children to glory” – that is, uniting us with him in glory. Because Jesus stooped to us, taking on our fallen humanity, his glory, his holiness, becomes ours. In Jesus Christ we share “one flesh” with God himself. We “all have one origin,” our heavenly Father, which is why Jesus is not ashamed to call us “brothers.” This is good news! It fills us with joy and hope as we grow in love, always looking forward to the great marriage feast of eternal life.
How do I imitate God’s faithful love in my relationship with others? Because of my hardness of heart, why do I choose selfish desires rather than love for God? Since sin causes the division between me and God, what means am I taking to avoid it?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.