“Do you think this is funny? This is not a game, young man!” I had made the serious mistake of smiling while the coach was scolding me for messing up a play on the field. In my defense (it actually WAS a game!) I was reacting to being nervous. I have a bad habit of doing that when I’m nervous! But Coach got his point across by making me run laps until I wasn’t smiling anymore!
We humans really do avoid the seriousness of fundamental matters, but then go overboard over things that, ultimately, don’t matter. Just take the issue of relationships, especially the Divine Mystery of Marriage. Our society has been lessening the true value of this sacred mystery for decades and the current state of marital relationships reflect that inability to take seriously the value of this institution. Of course, the reason it’s easier and easier to do this has to do with something deeper!
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Mark 10:2-12, and remember, the Church gives us this passage BEFORE the Feast of the Nativity on purpose!
At that time, the Pharisees came up to Jesus and in order to test him, asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart 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.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Our Lord Jesus once again has to draw these religious leaders away from the surface understanding of “what do the rules say” to the foundational wisdom behind all that has grown from the beginning. And, of course, our Lord begins with God. Certainly, Moses gave this commandment for divorce because of the “hardness of heart” of we humans. So, the very reason the rule came into place was because we humans failed to take seriously some foundational issues!
First, we miss the foundation of God Himself – You see, God knows Himself and Persons in Communion. This is why the revelation of the Holy Trinity is non-negotiable for Christians. If God knows Himself as Persons in Communion, and not “alone” in the sense of having no eternal “object” of love and joy, and God made us in His Image, then, when we forget the foundational reality of God Himself, we humans find it easier to dismiss each other and forget we were made FOR communion. Our hearts are hardened by this failure!
Next, we miss the foundation of the Gift of the Other. God made male and female to be “one flesh.” Of course, they started out that way until God took the Woman from the side of Man in the beginning. Just as God “separated” the Air from the Earth, the Light from the Darkness, and the Water from the Land, so God “separated” male and female. But this “separation” had a much deeper purpose: To train we humans in the hard work of becoming “one flesh” for our salvation SO THAT we could learn the hard work of becoming “LIKE” our Creator and be in communion with HIM!
As St. Paul says, “this is a great mystery, but I speak of Christ and His Church” (see Ephesians 5). And this mystery has little to do with merely keeping the rules of being married and everything to do with coming to grips with the purpose of the Divine Mystery of Marriage in the first place: to make us able to be in Communion with God!
Today, as we approach even a greater Mystery in the Nativity where God, the Uncreated, takes flesh from His creation and comes among us, let’s not fall into the all too easy trap of not taking serious things seriously by bypassing the shallow for the fundamental purpose of the Mystery in the first place! This Christmas, let’s be Orthodox on Purpose!
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