Putting the other first in sacrificial love

We need to stay united because God has united us and has ordained that it should be that way.

Oct 02, 2021

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Genesis 2:18-24;
Hebrews 2:9-11; Gospel: Mark 10:2-16

Almost 78,000 divorces have been recorded nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak began last year, according to the Prime Minister in a newspaper report in September. Some married couples treated the quarantine as a renewed honeymoon and were able to spend quality time together, while working from home. But for other couples, being confined with their spouses with nowhere to go and no external outlets except work, proved difficult. Quarrels and domestic violence erupted when couples were unable or unwilling to amicably come to terms with their differences, leading sometimes to the slippery slope towards divorce or distancing. Spouses needed to make adjustments to what might have been a previously ‘married single lifestyle’ where each were busy with their own individual lives and to re-discover the person they had married and perhaps grown apart from.

It is in this context that we should look at our story from Genesis where God saw that it was not good for man to be alone and thus needed a helpmate in the woman. Matthew Henry, a Protestant Bible scholar, describes it poetically: “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

Ultimately, both are called to be joined together and become one, not just in a physical way but in a way that extends to the heart – the emotions and spirit. The couple need to reprioritise their former allegiance and see each other as most important, rather than their family of origin, much as this is important, especially in our Asian context. They are to see themselves as one unit, rather than as two separate and distinct individuals. This can be hard, especially in a society that celebrates the importance of an individual’s needs and aspirations. It can be hard to put the other first in the face of one’s ego. Yet, when both actually do put the other first in sacrificial love, they both emerge as victors in a win-win situation. This does not mean that each spouse loses their individuality and has to give up all their hobbies and pastimes. Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese writer, talks of the need to have ‘spaces in your togetherness’, presumably to allow different interests and, ultimately, self-fulfilment. Yet all this must never draw spouses apart from each other.

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, reiterates the importance of marital unity when he reinterprets the Old Testament that allowed divorce for a certain cause to state that what God has united must not be divided by humans. Marriage is thus not just between the two spouses alone but must be seen in the context of God joining them. God must always be seen as the third partner in the marriage!

Love and Marriage have to be seen as adult decisions that we have chosen. Hence, I choose to love, despite the difficulties and trials encountered, rather than seeing love as a mere feeling that can blow hot and cold. Love is a decision! It is also something that we may struggle with, frail as we are, but we need to rise up each time we flounder, with the grace that comes from God. Our human strength needs to be supplemented with God’s supernatural strength. We need to stay united because God has united us and has ordained that it should be that way. There needs to be mutual acceptance and forgiveness, letting go of past hurts and always looking forward with hope and trust.

For those whose marriages have failed and ended in divorce, we need to extend the hand of acceptance and friendship and not treat them as outsiders in the church. We need to see how we can include and support the single-again, especially in their role of single parents. Those who are remarried are also in need of pastoral care and accompaniment.

Finally, marriage as a sacrament is to be seen not just as something a couple receive on their wedding day, but as something real and evident as their mutual love overflows from them both into their family, the community, and the church. Their sacramental love must be outreaching and evangelising, bringing others into the ambit of God’s love and curious to discover the secret and the source of that love, who is God. As Pope Francis says, “the couple that loves and begets life is a true living icon capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour”. 

--Fr Gerard Theraviam is the parish priest of the Church of Divine Mercy, Shah Alam

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