Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Love and Marriage.

I received a request to go into greater depth regarding both love and marriage as treated in the Gospel. Since all Prop 8 deals with marriage and therefore, presumably love, I believe this to be a timely question.
Two selections from the Gospel address these matters. The question of Love is addressed in Matthew 22: 36-40 and the question of Marriage are addressed in Matthew 19: 3-9.


Rabbi, which is the greatest commandment in the law? And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and the first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

Matthew 22: 36-40

The backdrop to this question is a practical one. There existed 613 distinct commandments in the Law, of which 248 were positive precepts and 365 were prohibitions. There was then a practical question in the minds of people serious about their spiritual life: What does God want of me? What must I do to attain peace and develop spiritually? This question is as timely today as was when first asked and has prompted many people to spend lots of time and money in the self-help section of their local bookstore. Jesus teaches the disciples the “Great Commandment” predicated on two passages taken from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

The first passage is taken from the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-5

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

This is known as the Shema and constitutes a Jewish confession of faith. People of Jewish faith, to this day, know this passage as people of Christian faith know the Lord’s Prayer.

The second passage is taken from Leviticus 19: 18

“you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus states in Matthew 22:40 “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

There are therefore three objects of our love: 1) God, 2) our neighbor (others) and 3) yourself. It is interesting that when most people read this passage they overlook the third that we must learn to love. Perhaps this is why we have so many twisted conceptions of God and why we find it so very difficult to forgive, let alone love someone else. If you don’t love yourself, if you fail to esteem yourself, if you think of your self as “damaged-goods” then, chances are that you will ultimately harbor resentments towards God and view others with either envy or, disregard.

You do not need an advanced degree in psychology to begin to see the implications of this for the spousal relationship, familial relationships, as well as for societal relationships. The first step in the spiritual journey is self-acceptance, healing, coming to personal integrity (wholeness) and true self-love. It is only then that we can love God (our Creator) and others.


This leads us to the next subject, that of marriage. This subject is addressed directly by Jesus in Matthew 19: 3-9. Please note that in verse 3 the motivation of those asking this question is revealed, “came up to him [Jesus] and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” It is important to understand the historical realities of Israel in this period 2,000 years ago. That we may understand the significance of this question and why it constitutes a “trap” on the part of those asking the question.

There existed two theological schools of thought in Israel at the time. Hillel was more liberal and Shammai was far more conservative on what constituted grounds for divorce. Shammai interpreted the passage in Deuteronomy, which grants permission to divorce to be limited only to instances of adultery. Hillel held that a man could divorce his wife for any reason.

It is also important to note that in Israel at that time, adultery was considered a sin/crime against a married man. If a married, man had sexual relations with a single woman that was not adultery. If a single man had sexual relations with a married woman, he committed adultery against her husband.

The strategy in asking this question was simple. If Jesus sided with Shammai, they would have effectively discredited him with Hillel. If he sided with Hillel, they would have effectively discredited him with Shammai. Either way, they would “get him.” Their motive in asking the question is itself corrupt since it does not come from a desire to discover the truth, the will of God or to grow spiritually but from a desire to entrap and destroy someone else. However, Jesus responds in a much-unexpected way by appealing to the Book of Genesis.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Genesis 1: 27-28

“Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.”

Genesis 2: 24

This is an appeal to the original institution of marriage; Jesus goes behind the Law to creation. The questioners were inquiring as to their rights, Jesus counters by citing the will of God. No doubt, they were very unhappy with the answer they received but they could hardly contest the insight. The fundamental insight is that marriage has two ends: 1) Procreative and 2) Unitive. The first point requires little commentary; sex is a divine gift, which ensures the continuation of the human race.

The second point has caused countless volumes to be written. It is worthwhile to observe that the family clan was the primary “safety net” of ancient people. The second citation from Genesis implies that the spousal relationship takes precedence even over the parent/child relationship. In other words, your spouse is your primary “safety net.” The spousal relationship is therefore, the most intimate relationship between two human beings in this life at least that is the implied divine intent found in Genesis when it states, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” Sex is also a divine gift, which helps to form intimate bonding between the spouses.

Jesus accomplishes several things by abolishing the right to divorce found in Deuteronomy. He corrects an inequality found in marriages of his time where women were de facto property of their husbands. Since marriage is now “for life” it theoretically makes possible a level of intimacy between the spouses, which was previously practically impossible. Since, a woman could be divorced “at will” by her husband and put out onto the street, she was unlikely to speak her mind or, reveal her heart for fear that she would be divorced. It is important to keep this point clearly in mind, lest we descend into a new form of legalism where marriage is simply viewed contractually and the whole point of mature intimacy is lost once more. Many are in “legal” marriages, which rob both parties of an authentically intimate union of love and life, which is a real marriage. Do not sacrifice the substance for a form.

At this Jesus’ questioners object: “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” In contemporary language, this would probably read but the Bible says we may divorce in Dt. 24:1. Who are you to change things? Their question contains the seed of an answer they do not wish to hear. God speaking in the Torah in Genesis established marriage as between two people. In the Torah in Deuteronomy, God’s spokesperson Moses grants permission for divorce. This constitutes a change in both the law and its practices. Now Jesus changes things yet again in the Gospels.

Jesus offers the explanation “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so.” We forget that the Bible is not a book; it is a library of books written over 1,500 years. As such, while God inspires it, it also represents a movement through history of our collective relationship with God. While God is unchanging, we are not. We are still developing and growing both as individuals and collectively. In the Gospel Jesus is letting us know that God meets us where we are but he walks with us in our personal and collective development. Jesus speaking in John 16:12-13 states bluntly: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

There is still much which we have to learn both as individuals and collectively. The conversation between the questioners and Jesus in the Gospel passage, in many ways reveals the conversation between God and us. All too often, we begin with a set of preconceptions. We often begin asking what is required of me and what my prerogatives are. Jesus corrects these attitudes and places a new question in the mind of the questioners. What does God desire for me? Not what is permissible but what is optimal? In the passage from John, the implication is that what we are called to exceeds our imaginations, that we could not “bear” the thought.

The “Unitive” end of marriage was the farthest thing from the minds of those who questioned Jesus that day. The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19 is not about replacing one set of marriage laws with a new set of marriage laws. It is about expanding the minds and the hearts of humanity to what a true marriage really means. It is supposed to be a union of love and life, which enriches the married couple and all of society. The concept of marriage has never been uniform throughout the scriptures or, in human history.

Not all marriages are open to procreation elderly couples will not reproduce. Therefore, not all sexual acts are open to conception. This does not invalidate the marriage of two heterosexuals in their 70’s. This does not rob the act of making love between two spouse of its life affirming and tender value, simply because it cannot produce a human offspring. The unitive end of marriage is sufficient for a valid marriage. Why then is this untrue for two people of the same gender?

In 1975 when the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [formerly known as the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition] of the Catholic Church stated that homosexuality is innate. The Spirit revealed to the Church that God has created some people as gay/lesbian. The Spirit had led us to a new understanding of the truth. As Jesus stated, this would be hard for many to bear but, evidently, the time has come for us to embrace this truth. Once the Spirit revealed this truth, it became the duty of those in ministerial positions to offer sensitive and realistic spiritual guidance to gays/lesbians. Trying to put old wine into new wineskins will not work, as Jesus warned us. It is time to view our faith as an unfolding process worked out in partnership with a loving Creator and not as a static code of laws to which individual lives must be bent and mindlessly sacrificed.

Gay and lesbians have been sacrificed, through depression, through physical abuse at the hands of people who have been taught to despise and hate them in the name of a loving God. Through suicides committed by LGBT adolescents who have been educated to hate themselves in the name of that same loving God. The battle for marriage equality laws is not simply a political battle. It is a battle for human lives and human dignity.

It is time to open our minds and our hearts. It is time to love God, our neighbor and ourselves-authentically.


Bill said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason you choose your words to be in white and the background in black? Illumination? I enjoyed your post. Thank you very much.

Kevin said...

Another great post. Ya know, Father, how many of us go to confession and talk about our sexual sins, but never mention that we may not love ourself at all. Which is probably what the Lord would rather hear and heal! Thank u! Kevin :)

Anonymous said...

Just today I had been feeling doubtful about my existence as a homosexual and my getting into heaven; I needed words like these to calm my soul. Thank you, Father, God bless you forever.

Anonymous said...

and again thank you

Anonymous said...

Nice post Father. For those unfortunate to be forced into divorce, they can find a safe haven in Divorce Recovery Suite. All are welcome. Come say hello in our live chat room.

Anonymous said...

As someone in the sometimes difficult position of being both a devout Catholic and a self-identified straight ally to the cause of LGBT rights, I find your writings most illuminating :)

I believe there are quite a great number of people who believe, but are put off identifying as such because of personal reservations with church dogma - people such as us need someone like you to be an outspoken role model, so that reform may come in time. Needless to say, it will be difficult for any of us to enter the church hierarchy in the current climate, but if we are inspired enough to remain members of the church despite our reservations, hopefully in time things WILL change :)