27th. Sunday of Year (B)
(Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-12)
Moses gave permission for a man to divorce his wife; however, Jesus declared that it was:
Because of the hardness of your heart (Moses) wrote you this precept.
The Law had been given through Moses to prepare the People of Israel both to bring forth and be able to embrace the Lord and Saviour of mankind when He should come, and this they did, supremely, through the Virgin Mary of Nazareth. However, the vast majority of Israelites, because of their hardness of heart, did not recognize and consequently were not able to embrace the Lord when He came.
Jesus, the Son of God made flesh was sent by His Father to live among God’s Chosen People, with the immediate aim of leading back to His Father, by the Spirit, those who were wandering far from their God as a result of the dominion that Satan held over their lives; His ultimate purpose, however, was to bring the whole of sinful mankind back to the God Who created them as to their loving Father by His, Jesus’, re-making of them into true children-of-God. To this end, Jesus did not base His teaching upon the Law of Moses for, although He did not deny the validity of the Law for those to whom and for whom it had originally been given through Moses, He Himself deliberately chose to by-pass the Law of Moses by invoking the Father’s original law of creation for His children, the law eternally enshrined in their original make-up, by recalling that:
From the beginning of the 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'; so then, they are no longer two but one flesh.
He then added His answer to the Pharisees question about the current standing of Moses permission for divorce under the Law:
What God has joined together, let not man separate.
We can see clearly that Jesus had only one purpose in mind: to secure and save true children-of-God for His Father, and for the fulfilment of this He showed Himself adamant, admitting no compromises even though Moses had set a precedent. Jesus’ Gospel was not to be in any way preparatory for something that might come later: His Gospel was definitive and its sole function was to further the formation of true children-of-God: the Holy Spirit was to lead those who would believe in Jesus’ Good News to their heavenly Father as members of the mystical Body of His incarnate Son, that is, as adopted children nourished by the teaching and by the very Body and Blood of His only-begotten Son. Jesus could not envisage spurious children-of-God: only those given to Himself by the Father and formed according to His Gospel teaching by His gift of the Holy Spirit, would be able and fit to follow Jesus to the kingdom of heaven and, indeed, into the very presence of His and their heavenly Father.
This attitude and purpose of Jesus was made devastatingly clear by His subsequent words which removed any possibility of misunderstanding or prevarication concerning the supremacy of divine truth with regard to political, social, or personal, expediency:
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
Those words were spoken to His disciples in private: they were the ones who would teach Jesus’ future disciples after He had gone, and there had to be no hesitancy or uncertainty over a matter of such importance, a matter that so clearly brings into possible confrontation men’s weakness and wishes with the exigencies of fellowship with God: proximity to the Father in union with Jesus.
Moses had allowed the Jews a certain relaxation because they had been subject to a Law which was meant to help them become aware of their own sinfulness and frailties and acknowledge their need of a Saviour; and in fulfilling such a function the Law allowed a degree of licence and bestowed a measure of holiness. The Gospel, however, is concerned with the ultimate degrees of holiness, because it was and is meant to bring believers into union with Jesus, and into the family of the heavenly Father as His true-children-in-Jesus, by the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Likewise, the fullness of the Holy Spirit could only be given to God’s Church in order to protect and promote the fullness of truth in all its purity: for only such fullness and purity of truth could lead human beings to an appreciation of, and gradual sharing in, the fullness of heavenly glory which is divine charity. Previously, under the Mosaic dispensation, certain compromises could be made for human weakness and ignorance, since the Law was still preparatory, what would be definitive was yet to come. The Gospel dispensation, however, is the final and immediate preparation for fellowship with God. Under the Gospel law, never would believers in Jesus work alone, for they would always be endowed with, empowered and enlightened by, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Holiness, and thus enabled to walk the ways of holiness leading into the presence of Him Whom Jesus addressed in prayer as ‘Holy Father’. It is for such reasons that Jesus commanded:
You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
People of God, today we are given an opportunity to appreciate something of the divide that many are continually attempting – unconsciously perhaps -- to set up between our modern Church and the intention and will of Jesus. For, today, emphasis is placed, so often, on numbers and ‘compassion’. Teaching, it is claimed, has to be adapted in order to bring more people into our churches; it should be relaxed, not only in unessential details of Church law and discipline, but even in matters of doctrine, so that the Church might be more accessible and welcoming to modern attitudes and mores.
This emphasis on numbers, this solicitude for popularity -- which is the true project modern ’compassion’ pleaders have in mind -- is far different from Jesus’ attitude with regard to those who thought His doctrine unacceptable:
Therefore, many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?" (John 6:60)
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68)
The Gospel message of salvation is, indeed, for the whole of mankind, but the mystery of human freedom is still relevant. In Jesus’ own time and among Jesus’ own native people only a relatively small number accepted Him, and so no one knows, nor can anyone know, how many will ultimately respond positively to God’s offer of salvation. Therefore, the attention of the Church should, must, always be turned to authentic doctrine: Jesus’ teaching, as Jesus meant it then, and as Jesus wills it to be heard and understood by mankind today. Teaching can never be undermined by thoughts and fears about numbers nor must it ever be subjected to the prevalent preconceptions, prejudices and passions, of modern society. Gospel truth has always to be the pure air we breathe not mere words to be argued about; it is not a commodity put at our disposal, to be watered down, topped up, coloured or flavoured, as we think best suited to current times and requirements. Mother Church deals – so to speak – in God’s teaching, she dispenses God’s grace; no mere men, no individuals however authoritative, can ‘fiddle’ with what is not theirs, and what is for all men of all times.
There is only one Who can guide us into the fullness of Gospel truth: the Holy Spirit bequeathed to His Church and to be poured out on His Body, by Jesus. The Good News of Jesus was first proclaimed by His own voice and understood by His own divinely-human mind; no merely human mind is either able to adequately understand its fullness and profundity, or to appreciate its wisdom and beauty; and that is why He gave His Holy Spirit to guide His Church into all truth:
When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore, I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)
Therefore, the Gospel message can only be rightly understood and proclaimed by those imbued and endowed by the Holy Spirit: is not to be grasped like some apple from a tree by intellectual prowess; it can only be known, loved, and gradually experienced, in the life of the Church which we are called to serve, above all, by serving the Lord Jesus Himself in and through her, by faithful obedience and humble perseverance in love. There are, alas, far too many in positions of prominence whose primary concern seems to be that they should be able to make their own mark, with the result that they are always seeking to adapt what has been handed down over centuries in order to proclaim their own gifts by attempts to popularize and debase the straight and narrow, the light of life, and the gift of the Spirit. They would have the Body and Blood available like French fries and Coca Cola; heaven would be easily accessible to all, indeed, it would be unavoidable, since for them, hell would no longer exist, being totally out of consideration in their system. God, however, might prove a problem for them, since He twice left the Jewish Temple because of the human sinfulness of faithless guides and pastors.
People of God, the Church of Christ, our Mother Church, can never be diverted from her purpose, because she is protected by the promise of Jesus and His gift of the Spirit. But the work of the Church can be thwarted for a time, and that is why the Spirit -- Who leads men and women of good will towards Jesus’ heavenly promise -- also leads and needs men and women of good will to defend the Church. Let us, therefore, pray for Mother Church, let us love the beauty of her God-gifted truth and the splendour of His grace at work in her. Let us disdain the tawdry prospects of all those who offer us what is cheap and worldly for that heavenly promise made to us by Jesus and won for us at the cost of His most Precious Blood.