Back to the Beginning
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him. He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?" They replied, "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of 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. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery."
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
After a particularly bad loss, Coach George Knox of the Anaheim Angles stormed into the locker room to express his frustration at the players for their poor performance. Though the next day's game was to begin at 1 p.m., he instructed his players to be ready in uniform at 9 a.m. "We're going back to work on fundamentals." One of the players immediately protested, Fundamentals? In the middle of the season?"
This scene from the 1994 movie "Angels in the Outfield" showed just how bad the team was before it got some angelic help. But it also shows that sometimes, even if it's in the middle of the season, you might just need to go back to fundamentals. The fundamentals of the game are always needed, never something you grow out of.
Similarly, Our Lord goes back to fundamentals - back to the beginning - when the Pharisees approach him with a question about divorce and remarriage. Yes, Moses allowed divorce, but this was "because of the hardness of your hearts." From the beginning it was not so. Our Lord appeals to a time long before the Mosaic law, all the way back to the beginning of creation.
On the same question of divorce and remarriage, some today may wonder why the church seems so strict. Perhaps the simplest answer is this: How could she teach anything contrary to what Christ himself teaches? His teaching here is so clear and explicit: "Therefore what God has joined together; no human being must separate . . . Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another another, she commits adultery."
It's not as if indissolubility is something foreign to marriage that Jesus is now imposing on top of it. Jesus is not imposing an additional burden upon marriage. He is restoring marriage to what it truly is. That is why our Lord doesn't go back only to the Mosaic law to resolve the question. He goes back all the way to the beginning.
The word "beginning" has a rich meaning in the Hebrew mind. It's not a point of departure, a starting point that you leave to get somewhere else. To look to the beginning is to get at the very essence of a thing. For example, when the book of Proverbs says, "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," it doesn't mean that fear of the Lord is simply a first stage one must pass through and leave behind in order to get to wisdom. No, it is fundamental to wisdom. And like the fundamentals of baseball, you never leave it behind. You don't cease to have fear of the Lord once you start to be wise. Rather, to say that "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" is to say that if you want to know the very essence of wisdom, you look to fear of the Lord.
Likewise, when Our Lord gives his teaching by looking back "from the beginning of creation," he is looking to the very essence of what marriage is, how God created it and what God's intention for it is. It's not any human law (or even any church law) that makes marriage permanent. It is simply the nature of what marriage is.
And isn't this simply what conjugal love requires? Isn't it the very nature of love to be forever and to be unconditional? Isn't it the very nature of love to be forever and to be unconditional? Isn't it the deepest longing of the human heart to love and to be loved forever? As Shakespeare expresses in his 116th sonnet, anyone who has ever loved knows this: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand'ring bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks. Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov'd, I never writ, nor no man ever loved."