MARRIAGE AND DISCIPLESHIP – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 22, Year B; Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

October 3, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Job 1:1; 2:1-10 or Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 26 or Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6 (see 5)
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-12 (13-16)

Marriage practices have varied considerably throughout history. Even today there are striking differences among the world’s cultures—how marriages are arranged, the nature of the relationship between spouses and their families, the place of marriage in the overall social order.

Even in the Bible there is no singular view of marriage. On the one hand, there are in the Hebrew Scriptures multiple examples of prominent figures who practiced polygamy, including Abraham and David. On the other hand, several New Testament texts suggest that celibacy is superior to marriage, and that Christians might therefore be better off not being married at all.

In recent years there has been much discussion about the “definition” of marriage, and some have cited two of this Sunday’s Scripture passages as supporting a particular viewpoint. The reading we hear today from the Gospel of Mark, however, is perhaps best understood not as a proof text to bolster legal arguments, but rather as part of the ongoing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders who challenged him and his teaching. Their question is not directly about marriage itself but is rather concerned with divorce. They speak from a patriarchal perspective that devalues women and that uses the Law to support their own privilege and power.

Jesus’ response has little if anything to do with defining marriage but has much to do with subverting sanctimonious approaches to religion that dehumanize others, particularly those without power or position. His words challenge a system that allows men simply to discard women with no regard for their welfare. Jesus goes one step further, declaring the equality of marital partners and holding women and men to the same standard in their relationships.

Today’s Gospel reading focuses on one narrow question about marriage—whether a man may divorce his wife. Jesus uses Scripture to refute Scripture, citing today’s reading from Genesis as reflecting God’s intent for unity in human relationships. Although Mark’s narrative makes no allowances for divorce, other New Testament texts recognize the human reality that there can be valid reasons for the dissolution of marriages. This teaching on divorce in Mark’s Gospel proclaims God’s intent for unity and equality in marriage relationships, and so any allowance for divorce must take account of this foundational principle.

One wonders if Jesus were being quizzed by the Pharisees of our time what questions they might pose. For example, as a Christian minister married to a person of the same sex, I’m sometimes challenged to justify my own marriage in the light of Christian teaching. While today’s readings don’t really address that question, the overarching message of the Scriptures favors both radical inclusion and radical discipleship. The church’s welcome of married same-sex couples is indeed consistent with the reign of God preached by Jesus and with the ever-evolving understanding of marriage. At the same time, however, today’s readings call all married couples to live by the demands of the Gospel—in fidelity, equality, and self-sacrificing love.

A Hymn for Today: “When Love Is Found”

Today’s Gospel call for married persons to live in a relationship of unity and equality is reflected in this hymn by Brian Wren, FHS. Wren’s text celebrates the love that draws partners together while acknowledging the struggles involved in living this vision.

When love is found, and hope comes home,
Sing and be glad that two are one,
When love explodes and fills the sky,
Praise God, and share our Maker’s joy.

When love has flow’red in trust and care,
Build both each day, that love may dare
To reach beyond home’s warmth and light,
To serve and strive for truth and right.

When love is tried as loved ones change,
Hold still to hope, though all seems strange,
Till ease returns and love grows wise
Through list’ning ears and opened eyes.

When love is torn, and trust betrayed,
Pray strength to love till torments fade,
Till lovers keep no score of wrong
But hear through pain love’s Easter song.

Praise God for love, praise God for life,
In age or youth, in calm or strife.
Lift up your hearts! Let love be fed
Through death and life in broken bread.

Text: Brian Wren, b. 1936, © 1983, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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