When we peach about, imitate, and put into action the values and attitudes of Jesus we must remember to witness to the entirety of his vision. To take selective quotations, isolated from their context or deeper meaning is to limit the good news and to constraint its message and meaning for us.
When Jesus spoke about the disintegration of a marriage he was also concerned for the wellbeing of women and their social and economic future in a society that was heavily weighted towards marriage, family, and extended family units. To be alone or cast out of a marriage was to be at risk in a society without many other social supports.
As distinct from our concepts of individualism, self-actualisation, personal rights, nuclear families, and many other aspects of modern society, his world was one fundamentally founded on the unity and stability of family. At the heart of these family units was the relationship of marriage.
Thus, his strong support of commitment and togetherness was also a strong support of women, children, social cohesion, and safety for all.
We must strive to see his world as it was and understand his challenging affirmations of marriage within this context.
For an inspirational vision of what the relationship and commitment of marriage is all about we might turn to the reading from Genesis today. Here we see a beautiful vision of the deep and life-giving value of the relationship between a woman and man.
God invites Adam to name the world around him, specifically in this case all the birds of the air and wild animals, but as we see, Adam cannot find a partner. What is more while Adam might give names to what he sees around himself, he cannot name who he is – he does not yet recognise himself. He can see what is around him and name it, but he cannot see himself fully yet and he certainly cannot know himself in such isolation surrounded by merely the natural world.
It is not until the creation of his equal, a woman, that he is able to affirm that they bear the same flesh, have equal value and are able to form partnership. When he sees his equal, Adam also sees himself and knows who he is.
Jesus sees in this original vision the model for marriage. A choosing of the other and the creation of a new reality, bigger than the sum of the two individual lives. A partnership that has its own unique flavour and is deserving of its own space – the two leave the family they have known to create a new community of life and they become one.
Jesus affirmed this relationship as one fundamentally in keeping with God’s hope and plan for humankind and for our mission on this earth.
It is not surprising then that by the time the Christian community gathered around the evangelist John, they would place his very first act and revelatory sign in the setting of a wedding. His mission in the world so often takes place and arises from within a marriage and is enfleshed in family life.
This is worth fighting for and protecting.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.