A young, newly ordained priest was about to perform his first wedding. He was very nervous, so he asked his pastor for help. The pastor walked him through the ceremony step by step and then gave him this advice: "If you get confused and can't think of what to say, just quote the Scripture; it's always safe and you'll never go wrong." With this advice in mind the priest conducted an admirable wedding ceremony : that is, until the very end,when he was to give the newlyweds the solemn nuptial blessing. At that crucial moment, with arms outstretched and every eye upon him, he lost his place in the prayer book and his mind went blank. Remembering the pastor's advice: "if you get lost, quote Scripture," he loudly proclaimed the only Scripture he could think of at that moment: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" ... Having conducted many hundreds of weddings over the years, I am still amazed at the immensity of what two fragile human beings promise each other: to be faithful companions, to support each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for the rest of their lives.
Today's readings take up the topic of marriage and divorce. In the Book of Genesis, we see God's original design for marriage expressed metaphorically as "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh." : man and woman as lovers, companions and helpmates on the journey of life. Yet in Mark's Gospel, the reverse side of the coin is brought up: divorce! The Pharisees question Jesus as to the permissibility of divorce. Jesus' response to the Pharisees, and later to his disciples, is much the same: "A man or a woman divorcing their spouse to marry another commits adultery." Plain and simple! Or is it? Notice what Jesus says: to divorce someone in order to marry another is adultery. That makes sense! But I don't think many people : beside certain celebrities and Hollywood stars : divorce a spouse just to marry another. Divorce is usually an escape from an intolerable situation, not an opportunity to drop your present spouse for the next available "hotty." Many divorces occur because of prolonged, serious problems: profound mental illness, serious addictions, infidelity, emotional, spiritual or even physical abuse. Even then, some stay together until the stress of their situation can no longer be endured. If after their divorce, these hurting people find genuine love and respect from someone else and do remarry, are they to be condemned for it? Some churches thinks so, and refuse them Communion! Yet the Book of Genesis declares these to be God's own words: "It is not good for the man (or woman) to be alone!"? Yes, marriage vows are sacred. But so is our emotional and spiritual well-being!
I come from a family of five children, all raised Roman Catholic. We all got married : myself somewhat later in life! : but my four siblings, all very good people whom I love, were divorced over the years. Only one remarried; the others chose not to. The Book of Genesis gives us the ideal and purpose of marriage: loving companionship and "being fruitful and multiplying." The Gospel of Jesus affirms this, then warns against divorce for selfish reasons. But not all divorces are for selfish reasons! In my experience, few are. The Roman church thought so too, and a few . centuries ago, actually had a ritual for people getting married after divorce.
At this church, we have couples who have been married for many decades, and we celebrate their lives and their love. We also welcome the divorced and remarried, knowing that love can be rediscovered and enjoyed. What we do not welcome is an insensitive, celibate hierarchy dictating terms of marriage and divorce to us who are baptized into fellowship with Jesus. You know, maybe that newly ordained priest had the right Scripture quote after all: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" He was simply addressing the wrong audience!