05 November 2009

Faithfulness of Couples, Faithfulness of God

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 4 October 2009

Readings: Gn 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 or 10:2-12

The Gospel story this Sunday is yet another polemical episode between Jesus and the Pharisees. Once again, they were trying to trick him with a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

The passage in question is Deut 24,1: “When a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent, and therefore he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house…”

Divorce is allowed in ancient Israel. The test is in the interpretation of the line “something indecent”, ‘erwath dabar. For those who follow the strict interpretation of Rabbi Shammai, ‘erwath dabar means a case of adultery. For those who are of the “lax” school of Rabbi Hillel, it could mean any offense or displeasure, e.g., burning the soup or whatever.

Jesus once again escaped the dilemma by turning the petty difference upside down and targeting the very institution of divorce. Deut 24,1 is a concession to human weakness, to stubbornness of heart. He appealed to authority higher than Moses: God. He was clear about what God ordained from the beginning. Gen 2,24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”

By saying so, Jesus established faithfulness as essential to married life and prohibited divorce in the clearest of terms.

Let us define fidelity in three ways:

1. Exclusivity

But first, a story… A middle-aged wife was feeling resentful of her husband’s apparent forgetfulness of their wedding anniversary date. But it turned out the husband actually prepared a surprise celebration for her. Still a bit embarrassed, she retorted: “But you haven’t even sang our theme song. Or have you forgotten it already?” Husband: “What was that again?”. Wife: “Only You” (in hurt tones). Husband: “Oh that, I changed that already a few months ago. It’s no longer “Only You” but… “Nobody, Nobody but You”.

Why exclusivity? Because God willed it so: Man and woman should be married only to one spouse. Gen 2,24 says a man leaves his parents and clings to his wife, not to his wife and his kabit…

Exclusivity also fits the natural order of things. Monogamous relationship is universally regarded as the more ideal relationship for couples, even and especially for cultures that practice polygamy.

Once in a while I get asked: “When does infidelity start?” I answer that I will never know the whole gamut of experience that married couples go through but I am sure that infidelity doesn’t start with an actual relationship or even with an attraction. It starts in the mind, when you start entertaining the possibility that you could manage two relationships, when you start hiding from your spouse little things because there really is good reason for her/him to better not know about them… when a husband starts changing the names in his phonebook of some of his female friends into male ones. And the wife is left to wonder why a certain “Brando” has several texts to her husband with the words “i miz u”.

A married friend told me: “If you want an uncomplicated happy married life: keep it simple. Be faithful.”

2. Equality

A Jewish tradition makes an analogy about the Eve-from-Adam’s-rib story. The woman was not made with a bone from the man’s head for it would mean that she is superior to the man, nor from his foot for it would mean that she is inferior to the man, but from the side to show that they are equal in dignity.

The words in the wedding liturgy stresses that both husband and wife are equal in the life of grace, they are co-heirs of the Kingdom.

A usual argument against the equality of husband and wife is Eph 5,22: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” A simple reading of the entire periscope though would lead us to Eph 5,21: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And to Eph 5,25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.” Who is subordinate to whom is not the point of the passage but that the love of the couple should mirror the love between God and His Church.

3. Lovingkindness

Lovingkindness, hesed, is a common description of God’s love and faithfulness in the Old Testament. Lovingkindness is the anti-thesis of “stubbornness of heart” which compelled Moses to allow divorce. Marriages break down because of either one or both of the couples’ “stubbornness of heart”.

When we talk of lovingkindness in fidelity, it means that a marriage should not just be something to endure, it should bring out the best in the couple and in their children.
Fidelity is affirmed in everyday deeds of kindness, in the simple (and cheesy) gestures of affection, in the many acts of sacrifices which the couple makes together for their love and their family.


There is a deeper theological significance in the faithfulness of couples: it reflects the faithfulness of God.

We humans get to know our God through the instrumentality of symbols. We get to know him through others. We get to know His love through the love of others. Where does all this start: in the family, in the parents, in married couples. When couples show their fidelity to each other, and that they are happy with each other – their children, their family and friends, and the rest of the community, also get to know the love and faithfulness of God, and the happiness He brings.

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