6 Nov 2016
“… for not all have faith, but the Lord is faithful.” (2 Thess. 3:2-3) In the name …
Well today we run across a Gospel passage that can be confusing and even upsetting. And these are exactly the passages that need to be proclaimed and studied a bit more closely because these are often the ones that hide a gem of a message. This morning Jesus is trying to explain eternal life to people who don’t believe in it. His opponents have an argument that makes sense when you stop and think about it. I’m of the generation that remembers Elizabeth Taylor. She was married eight times, but to only seven men; Richard Burton snuck in there twice. So it’s not completely fanciful when Jesus’ opponents ask which marriage counts forever in heaven.
I think to understand Jesus’ answer we have to first realize that love and marriage were not always synonymous. I bet we all know the story of King David and Bathsheba, for example. Her husband is off fighting one of David’s wars. The king sees her naked, forces her to his palace and basically rapes her. To make it even worse, he then has her husband Uriah murdered. Bathsheba is now available. The Bible doesn’t say anything about it, but how could Bathsheba be in love when David marries her? But love has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t even come up in the Bible.
And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. David had a son named Amnon. He lusted after his half-sister Tamar and raped her. Now let me read to you what the Bible says: “Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get out!’ But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.’” (2 Sam. 13:15-16) Even though she was raped, the stigma lay with her, not her brother-rapist. She was left unmarriable for the rest of her life and kept in seclusion in another brother’s home. According to the custom of the day, it would have been expected of her to marry her rapist. Love and marriage just aren’t the same.
This remains the marriage tradition that surrounded Jesus a full thousand years later. The religious law at the time of Jesus allowed a husband to simply write out a certificate of divorce and the woman became homeless. Take the song sheet, write “I divorce you,” and it’s over, but the wife could never divorce the husband no matter how horrible her life with him was. When Jesus was confronted with this question of such a divorce, he ended it. He treated the wife exactly the same as He treated the husband. No more would the man be able to just walk away. But even Jesus didn’t base this on love; He based it on commitment. (Mark 10:1-12)
In 2005, Stephanie Coontz wrote Marriage, A History. She argues and gives examples from ancient history until recently that marrying for love would have seemed absurd to our ancestors. Marriage was for utility. They were often arranged for strategic or economic gain. This is why in the year 1405 a woman wrote a religious book called The Book of the City of Ladies. The city was surrounded by impenetrable walls and only women could live inside. This woman’s idea of paradise was to be protected and separated from all these husbands. How confining and demoralizing must that society of been for this to be her hope? Even through the 1950’s, divorce was so demonized that women would sometimes have to suffer through terrible marriages because there was no alternative. Love and marriage were not the same.
Because of this history we can assume that many people listening to Jesus would not have welcomed the idea of spending eternity with their spouse. And this is when Jesus drops the bombshell that in heaven our reality is so completely different than what we now experience that marriage does not apply in heaven, “till death do us part,” in other words. Don’t think of this as a negative, as something we lose. Marriage didn’t mean the same in Jesus’ day as the ideal of a loving union means today when people choose to stay together because they love each other, and this is why it does not belong in God’s heaven.
Heaven is God’s reality and I don’t think we do it justice trying to say what heaven is like. Let me just read to you a passage from a guy by the name of Paul who was there: “[I] was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. …[I] was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” (2 Cor. 12:2,4) If Paul, who hardly ever held back his tongue, says nothing, I think that’s a pretty solid lesson for the rest of us. But that same Paul says today, “The Lord is faithful.” That’s enough for me. I don’t know what heaven will be like, but Jesus is there, and He’s faithful. I trust in Him, the rest are details.
But before I close I’d like to take the marriage analogy in another direction and bring it back down to earth. Heaven is all things wonderful; down here that comes with a lot of work. Marriage is a union. Sometimes in that union the two spouses don’t always agree with each other. Sometimes those arguments can get heated and if the couple doesn’t step back and take a bit of a breather, the marriage can suffer, the marriage-union can even end. We’re going to have an election on Tuesday. This has been a long and mean campaign. A lot of anger has been spewed. The nation is pretty evenly divided it seems, but someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. More important, though, is the union. Whichever candidate wins, that person will be OUR President, as hard as that may be to swallow. Come Wednesday we need to work at healing this union. We need to realize that this could be torn apart unless, just like in a marriage, we step back and try to see why we are better off together than separated. Compromise is not a sin. As all the politicians say, but may it be more than a slogan with us, may God bless America because we need it. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo