What God Has Joined
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a trick question.
The “lawfulness” of divorce in Israel was never at issue. Moses had long ago allowed it (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). But Jesus points His enemies back before Moses, to “the beginning,” interpreting the text we hear in today’s First Reading.
Divorce violates the order of creation, He says. Moses permitted it only as a concession to the people’s “hardness of heart”—their inability to live by God’s covenant Law. But Jesus comes to fulfill the Law, to reveal its true meaning and purpose, and to give people the grace to keep God’s commands.
Marriage, He reveals, is a sacrament, a divine, life-giving sign. Through the union of husband and wife, God intended to bestow His blessings on the human family—making it fruitful, multiplying it until it filled the earth (see Genesis 1:28).
That’s why today’s Gospel moves so easily from a debate about marriage to Jesus’ blessing of children. Children are blessings the Father bestows on couples who walk in His ways, as we sing in today’s Psalm.
Marriage also is a sign of God’s new covenant. As today’s Epistle hints, Jesus is the new Adam—made a little lower than the angels, born of a human family (see Romans 5:14; Psalm 8:5-7). The Church is the new Eve, the “woman” born of Christ’s pierced side as He hung in the sleep of death on the cross (see John 19:34; Revelation 12:1-17).
Through the union of Christ and the Church as “one flesh,” God’s plan for the world is fulfilled (see Ephesians 5:21-32). Eve was “mother of all the living” (see Genesis 3:20). And in baptism, we are made sons and daughters of the Church, children of the Father, heirs of the eternal glory He intended for the human family in the beginning.
The challenge for us is to live as children of the kingdom, growing up ever more faithful in our love and devotion to the ways of Christ and the teachings of His Church.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
Retreat preached at the Vatican, 1983
It is astonishing to note the importance Jesus himself gives to the child with regard to man as a whole: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18,3). So for Jesus, to be a child is not just a purely temporary stage in man’s life, deriving from his biological destiny and intended to vanish away afterwards. In childhood that which is proper to man is realized in such a way that anyone who has lost the essence of childhood is themself lost. Following on from this and from a human point of view, we might imagine what happy memories Christ must have preserved of the days of his childhood and what a special experience childhood must have remained for him, a particularly pure form of humanity. It is from this that we will learn to reverence the child who, defenceless as it is, appeals to our love. But this poses the following question above all: what exactly is the characteristic trait of childhood that Jesus thinks of as irreplaceable?… In the first place we need to call to mind that the essential attribute of Jesus, that which expresses his dignity, is that of “Son”…
The whole orientation of his life, the originating purpose and end that shaped it, is expressed in a single word: “Abba, beloved Father” (Mk 14,36; Gal 4,6). Jesus knew he was never alone and, up to his last cry on the cross, he obeyed the one he called Father, reaching out to him with his whole being. This alone enables us to explain why he refused to be called “king” or “lord” at the end, or to give himself some other title of power, but turned to a term we might translate as “child”.
Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, October 7, 2012 (opening of XIII Synod of Bishops)
The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8).
What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world.
The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance.
Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly.
There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. …
Pope Benedict XVI
Homily, October 4, 2009 (Opening of Synod for Africa)
The biblical Readings of this Sunday speak of marriage. However, more radically, they speak of the design of Creation, of the origins and hence, of God.
The Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews confirms this design, where it says: “For he who sanctifies”, namely Jesus Christ, and “those who are sanctified”, that is, human beings, “have all one origin”. “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2: 11).
Thus the primacy of God the Creator visibly stands out in both Readings, with the eternal validity of his original imprint and the absolute priority of his lordship, that lordship which children can welcome better than adults; for this reason Jesus holds them up as a model for entering the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mk 10: 13-15). …
God is the Creator and the source of life. Now life as we well know is essentially expressed in the union between the man and the woman and in the birth of children; the divine law, written into nature, is therefore stronger and pre-eminent with respect to any human law, according to Jesus’ clear and concise affirmation: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10: 9).
Thus the perspective is not primarily moral: it concerns being, the order inscribed in creation, before duty. …
Marriage, as the Bible presents it to us, does not exist outside the relationship with God. Conjugal life between a man and a woman, and hence the life of the family that results from it, is inscribed in communion with God and, in the light of the New Testament, becomes an icon of Trinitarian Love and the sacrament of Christ’s union with the Church. …
Furthermore, by including in the Gospel passage the text on Jesus and the children (Mk 10: 13-15), the liturgy invites us from this moment to bear in mind in our pastoral concern the reality of children … In the scene where Jesus welcomes the children, even indignantly opposing the disciples who sought to keep them away from him, we see the image of the Church which … expresses her own motherhood especially to the smallest ones, even when they are not yet born.
Like the Lord Jesus, the Church does not see them principally as recipients of assistance and even less of pietism or exploitation but rather as people in every sense, who through their own way of being show the main road by which to enter the Kingdom of God, the road, that is, of unconditional entrustment to his love.
Pope Benedict XVI
Encyclical letter “Deus caritas est”, § 9-11
“The two shall become one flesh”
In the world of the Bible, God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution… But God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives… In this biblical vision, on the one hand we find ourselves before a strictly metaphysical image of God: God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape… The first novelty of biblical faith consists… in its image of God. The second, essentially connected to this, is found in the image of man.
The biblical account of creation speaks of the solitude of Adam, the first man, and God’s decision to give him a helper… The idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become “complete”. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who “abandons his mother and father” in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “one flesh”. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.